How to Obtain a Social Security Income Estimate

It is often useful to obtain a Social Security income estimate ahead of time, to assist in financial planning. However, before making the calculation, you should ensure that you will have the minimum number of work/tax credits to qualify for the type of Social Security benefit you are seeking. If you don’t have the required number of credits, you are not covered.


In every year when you work and pay Social Security taxes, you can earn up to a maximum of 4 credits. In 2011, it takes $1,120 of covered earnings to earn 1 credit, to a maximum of $4,480 for 4 credits. The amount required per credit changes from year to year. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to earn each credit, but it must be earned income. You do not receive credits for investment income.

To qualify for disability payments before age 24, you need 6 credits, which must be earned in the 3-year period immediately prior to your disability. From age 24 and older, you must have earned an average of 2 credits for every year since you turned 21.

To qualify for retirement benefits, you need 40 credits if you were born in 1929 or later. For every year that you were born before 1929, you need one fewer credit.

For your spouse and children to qualify for survivors benefits, you normally need a maximum of 40 credits, fewer if you are younger. However, a special rule allows your survivors to get benefits even if you have only earned 6 credits in the 3 years before they need it.

Although you need a minimum number of work/tax credits to qualify for retirement, disability, or survivors benefits, having more than the minimum number of credits will not increase your benefit amount. Instead, your overall average earnings will determine your monthly payment.


Once you know that you qualify for Social Security benefits, you can easily obtain a Social Security retirement income estimate by using the Retirement Estimator on the Social Security online website. This calculator uses real-time access to your earnings record to calculate your Social Security benefits, based on local current law. You can even create “what if” retirement scenarios to see how you can adjust your planning to maximize your benefits.

In order to use the Retirement Estimator, you will be required to login by providing private information, including your name, your Social Security Number, your mother’s maiden name, and your place and date of birth. If you do not want to provide this information online, you cannot obtain exact information based on your earnings record.

Instead, you can use a different calculator that does not access your earnings record. The benefit calculators on this webpage will show a variety of estimates for all Social Security benefits, based on the amount of information you want to enter. These are also the calculators you should use if you are eligible for a pension, even though you were doing work that is not covered by Social Security.


All calculators other than the Retirement Estimator automatically assume that you have the necessary credits for the type of Social Security income you are seeking. Even if you don’t have enough credits to qualify, they will still give you an estimate.

Estimate for another person

If you need a Social Security income estimate for another person, you will need to talk to someone at Social Security directly. Contact your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213. For TTY users, call 1-800-325-0778.