Don't Claim Without Trying a Social Security Calculator First

Use a Social Security calculator before you make a permanent decision.

A good Social Security calculator can help you get more lifetime benefits by showing you customized claiming strategies that you may not be aware of without the use of software. 

There are both free calculators and calculators that charge a modest fee. There are so many Social Security calculators now that I can't cover them all — so I have listed the ones which I am most familiar with.

The calculators below are different than what is available on the Social Security website. Social's online calculators don't analyze a variety of options and show you what claiming choices give you more money — the calculators below do! 

man with computer
If you are confident in all that you do, this site may be perfect for you. Stigor Karlsson / Getty Images

This FREE Social Security calculator is the best free option I have come across. After you input your data, although it does not provide a fancy report, it will provide a claiming recommendation with a detailed list of what each spouse needs to do and when. It was designed by a registered investment advisory firm out of California. To use the online tool they require you to create a login and password, but they have assured me that they do not use that information to solicit you, nor do they sell it to anyone.

couple with computer
The AARP organization is very resourceful and their tools are designed to anticipate your needs. Chris Ryan / Getty Images

AARP offers a free easy-to-use calculator that provides great information on how earnings from work can reduce your benefits if you claim before you reach Full Retirement Age. It also provides a recommended claiming strategy in a summary format, but you have no way to dig in and see the data tables supporting the answer. I don't find this calculator very useful in developing a good action plan. I listed it here because it is so visible — best to use the one from Bedrock above, or a for-fee calculator below if you're serious about making your benefit choices work for you.

couple with credit card and computer
Sometimes paying a small fee is required to discover expert advice. LWA / Dann Tardif / Getty Images

Maximize My Social Security, developed by Boston economics professor Larry Kotlikoff, covers all the Social Security claiming scenarios one might encounter: retiree, spousal, survivor, divorcee, parent, and child benefits. It also does calculations for the windfall elimination provision and government pension offset (which will affect you if you receive a pension from an employer who did not withhold Social Security tax from your earnings — such as a state employee.) It costs $40 for an annual license. Be prepared: this Social Security calculator requires you to input your past and projected earnings history, which you can get from your online Social Security statement.

woman with calculator
They say knowing is half the battle, she is determined to continue trying all of her options to make the right decision. Gary Houlder / Getty Images

This calculator provides an overview of several different pre-selected claiming strategies, or you can input your own strategy to see how it stacks up against other options. Price ranges from $10 — $40 depending on your status such as single, married, widowed or divorced. They provide a detailed report that provides tables so you can see a month-by-month or year-by-year comparison of your potential claiming strategies. They also offer a mobile version for your iPhone.

calendar and financial advisor
Timing choices can make a considerable difference. Comstock Images / Getty Images

The full-featured version of this calculator is available only to financial advisors. I use this software package in my business, which is a retirement income planning practice. Social Security Timing offers phenomenal customer support. They also updated their software at lightning speed when new Social Security laws came out on Nov. 2, 2015. If you're in the finance business, you'll find this software valuable.