Image source: Getty Images. Nobody -- not even Social Security itself -- knows for sure what you'll get until you actually file for benefits. Still, the Social Security Administration is in a great position to provide you with its very best estimate and is happy to do so. How to get your personalized estimate of your Social Security benefit The fastest way to get your hands on your personalized Social Security estimate is by creating a "My Social Security" account via this link . Once you create the account, you can access your most recent Social Security statement, which shows you the best available estimate of what you'll get. Image source: Social Security. In addition to your estimated benefit, the statement shares what your earnings history looks like, what would happen if you collect early or late, and what survivor benefits are available if you pass away. On top of that useful financial data, the statement does include a warning about the pending shortfall of Social Security funding and how that puts a portion of your benefits at risk. What if you don't want online access to your Social Security account? If due to privacy, identity theft, or other concerns you don't want online access to your Social Security account, you can block it through this link . If you do so, nobody -- not even you -- can retrieve your Social Security data online. If you block online access, you can still get a copy of your statement via mail. Simply fill out form 7004 ( available here ) and mail it into Social Security at the address provided on the form. Within four to six weeks, your statement should arrive. In addition, if you don't have a Social Security online account, Social Security will mail you your statement at ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 or older, up until you begin collecting. Know what you can expect from Social Security While Social Security provides the foundational retirement benefits for millions of Americans, the typical retiree currently receives $1,350 per month from the program. Over time, benefits will likely grow at about the rate of inflation, and the program is facing a massive financing shortfall that will cut benefits to about 79% of expected levels in 2034 if nothing is done about it. Your specific benefit is based on your or your spouse's earnings record, but in general, benefits run about that level and the program's shaky financial footing affects all Americans. With your benefit information in hand, you can better figure out how much additional money you'll need to cover your expected costs in retirement. With that, you can start to build the plan that can take you to and through a comfortable retirement. Chuck Saletta has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy . The Motley Fool is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news, analysis and commentary designed to help people take control of their financial lives. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY. Offer from the Motley Fool: The $15,834 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook(Photo: If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known "Social Security secrets" could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $15,834 more... each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after. Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies.)
Q: I am 68, retired from teaching, and have been divorced for 18 years. My ex-husband is nine years younger than me and not yet eligible for retirement. We were married for 18 years. Question: In three years, when he turns 62, can I file for a portion of his Social Security? If so, how do I do it? Is there an on-line form? –
Barb Dignan, Colorado
A: The first question that must be answered is this: Did you pay into Social Security in your teaching job, or did your school district offer you an alternate retirement program?
According to Elaine Floyd, the director of retirement and life planning at Horsesmouth, teachers in California, Texas, Illinois and several other states do not pay into Social Security. “This means that if they were to claim Social Security spousal or survivor benefits, the benefit would be reduced by two-thirds of their teacher’s pension amount under the government pension offset (GPO),” she says.
“If you did pay into Social Security, then yes, when your ex-husband turns 62 you can file for your divorced-spouse benefit and receive 50% of his primary insurance amount (PIA),” says Floyd. “However, if your own Social Security benefit based on your own work record is higher, you will receive that amount instead.”
The application for divorced-spouse benefits must be made in a local office; it cannot be done online.
Read Information You Need To Apply For Spouse's Or Divorced Spouse's Benefits - Form SSA-2.
Q: I am 63 and receive $2,512 per month from Social Security Disability Insurance. My wife retired in 2016 and will turn 62 in January. According to Social Security, her monthly benefit would be $1,000. My question: Does she receive her Social Security amount or does she get a percentage from my monthly benefit. I heard she could receive half of what I get? – Michael Valin, Illinois
A: Your wife is entitled to 50% of your full retirement age benefit when she is at her full retirement age, says Brian Vosberg, author of The Complete Retiree's Guide to Social Security: Powerful Strategies to Maximize Retirement Benefits and Get the Most From Your Money.
So, if she was born in 1955, her full retirement age is 66 and 2 months. “If she plans on taking the benefit at age 62, the spousal benefit will be reduced by a percentage based on the number of months that benefit is taken before her full retirement age,” says Vosberg, who is also president of Vosberg & Associates. “In her case, she will get a benefit that is approximately 35% of your full retirement age benefit.”
Since you wife has her own benefit based on her earning record, Social Security pays that amount first. “However, if the spousal benefit is higher, she will get a combination of the benefits that equal the higher of the two amounts,” says Vosberg.
Q: Can I draw on my wife's Social Security benefit without affecting mine? She filed five years ago for benefits when she turned 65 and was signing up for Medicare. I will turn 67 next week and have not filed. I plan on waiting to age 70 to file for my benefits. I have been told that I can file and collect one-half of the amount she collects without affecting my benefit when I file at age 70. Can I do this and how do I do this. – Jim MacWhirter, New York
A: Good news. You can still take advantage of what’s called the “claim some now; claim more later" strategy that was significantly changed with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Bill of 2105, says Kurt Czarnowski, a principal with Czarnowski Consulting.
Since you were born Jan. 1, 1954 or earlier – that is, you were at least age 62 at the end of 2015 – you’re grandfathered; you can still operate under the old rules.
“Because you’re at or over your full retirement age (FRA) and your spouse is currently collecting Social Security benefits, then you’ll be able to file a ‘restricted application’ and claim ‘just’ a spousal benefit equal to 50% of your wife's FRA amount without having to take your own benefit first,” says Czarnowski. “Actually, you’ll be able to collect more than half of what your wife is currently receiving because she opted to start collecting prior to her FRA.”
And here’s the even better news. “Because you won’t be receiving your own retirement benefit, you’ll be able to accrue delayed retirement credits (DRCs) and grow your own amount by 2/3% per month – or 8% per year – for as long as you don’t collect it, right up until the age of 70,” says Czarnowski.
You can apply for spousal benefits online by going to Social Security's website: https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/rib.
Robert Powell is editor of Retirement Weekly, contributes regularly to USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch. Got questions about money? Email email@example.com.