July 22, 2008

Social Security Administration launches online retirement calculator --But is it useful?

Those who have enough Social Security credits to qualify for benefits can now visit the Social Security Administration's new online retirement calculator to view an estimate of retirement benefits and to view additional "what if" retirement scenarios based on current law.

The estimator, according to Social Security Administrator Michael Astrue, is supposed to be a faster, more convenient avenue for viewing an accurate estimate of Social Security benefits. But is it helpful?

"I'm impressed. It's a wonderful tool. It brings some clarity to one of the key sources of income for people in retirement," Stuart Ritter, a T. Rowe Price Associates financial planner tells Eileen Ambrose of the Baltimore Sun. "Knowing more about your Social Security benefits will help you plan better for what you need to be saving."

Dallas Salisbury, president of the Employee Benefit Research Institute reviewed the calculator during its testing stages. He tells Ambrose, "The earlier in life, the better. These types of calculations early in life will allow people to begin saving small amounts early, and small amounts early add up to big amounts."

The Social Security Administration also plans on implementing an updated online application for benefits this fall. Astrue tells the Associated Press the application will reduce the current 45-minute process to 15 minutes and will eliminate the need for follow-up visits to agency field offices

"These initiatives will help us better handle the baby boomer wave and make it easier for the public to do business with us online," Astrue said.

The AP reports workers currently get an annual benefit estimate mailed to them that is based on prior earnings but assumes people's salary stays the same until retirement age. The online calculator supplements the annual mailing but won't replace it.

The Social Security Administrations new online benefits estimate calculator can be found at www.ssa.gov.

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