Social Security statements, which outline past earnings and expected Social Security income in retirement, used to arrive each year like early birthday presents. Recipients could use them to reflect on how far they’d come from days of low-paid, temporary summer jobs in high school, or the life events, from lay-offs to births of children, that lowered earnings. Now, instead of checking their mailboxes, Americans must go online, to socialsecurity.gov/mystatement, to get their earnings history and projected benefits.
[In Pictures: 10 Ways to Give Your Money a Makeover.]
While the Social Security Administration reports that over one million people have already done so, the vast majority of Americans have not. Before the agency switched over to an online-only system last year in order to cut costs, it used to mail paper statements to around 150 million people each year. But checking is important, because it gives users a chance to fix any mistakes and check their own assumptions about how much they will receive each month in retirement.
Here are six reasons to create your account today:
1. It’s probably the only way to get information about your future benefits.
While most Americans will no longer receive the paper-based statements each year, a few will: The Social Security Administration says it will mail statements to workers who are age 60 or older, unless they have already started receiving their benefits, as well as make a one-time mailing to workers the year they turn 25. Otherwise, checking online is your only option.
2. There could be mistakes.
The Social Security Administration urges people to check in at least once a year, in order to verify earnings for the previous year. If employers incorrectly reported income, or used the incorrect name or Social Security number (people who recently changed names because of marriage, for example, could be at risk), then the numbers could be wrong. Self-employed individuals will also want to double-check their numbers, since their income often comes from multiple sources. (The statement lists income from all sources together.)
The administration urges workers who notice mistakes on their earnings statement to call 1-800-772-1213 as soon as possible, with tax returns or W-2 forms handy.
3. It can help you plan your retirement.
Social Security benefits are based on lifetime earnings; the agency projects future benefits based on work history. The statement estimates benefits based on the age workers retire; the later the age, the higher the benefits, up to age 70. The statement also explains disability benefits and survivor benefits. In addition, the Social Security Administration offers a retirement estimate tool (http://www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator/) to help further clarify benefit estimates.
Of course, the law could change at any time, and with the payroll tax only funding 75 percent of benefits starting in 2033, projected benefits could differ from the actual benefits, especially for younger workers.
4. You don’t have to wait until you’re 25.
When the Social Security Administration mailed out benefits, it started when workers turned 25. Now, with the new online tool, Americans can check their statement after their 18th birthday (as long as they also have a Social Security number, email address, and domestic mailing address.)
5. It’s easy and secure.
You have to jump through a few hoops the first time you log in. Creating an account requires first proving you are who you say you are, which the Social Security Administration does through the credit reporting bureau Experian. You will be asked a few multiple-choice questions about your personal history, such as loans you’ve taken out, streets you’ve lived on, and employers.
As long as you answer correctly, you will have little trouble creating the account. If memory fails you, or mistakes in your credit history on file trip you up, then you might have to wait a few days and try again (or visit a local Social Security office).
6. You can de-clutter your home.
Since online access means you no longer need to carefully collect and store the annual mailed paper statements, you can cross off one more paper-filing task to complete each year. Plus, you’ll always know where to find your statement—just be sure to make careful note of your password.