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When I retire, how much will I receive from Social Security?

That depends upon how much you have earned and how long you have worked under the Social Security system. Your retirement benefit will be based on your average lifetime earnings. Don't worry if you started out as a busboy and worked your way up to executive restaurant guru--only your highest 35 years of earnings will count.

The amount you receive will also be affected by whether you start collecting benefits early (you'll get less), whether you collect benefits late (you'll get more), whether you work after you retire, whether other family members receive benefits based on your earnings record, whether you collect certain other government benefits, and whether the cost of living rises.

You can estimate your retirement benefit online based on your actual earnings record using the Retirement Estimator calculator on the Social Security website (www.ssa.gov). You can create different scenarios based on current law that will illustrate how different earnings amounts and retirement ages will affect the benefit you receive.