Social Security to Resume Paper Statements

Workers age 60 and older will get mailings beginning in February.

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The Social Security Administration says it will resume mailing benefit statements to workers age 60 and older in February. Annual mailings to workers were suspended beginning in April 2011 to save money.

[See 5 Social Security Changes Coming in 2012.]

The SSA also plans to launch an online statement service later this year, but did not give a specific date when online statements will become available. “We are currently testing the online statement to ensure we can support the demand for this new service,” writes SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue in a letter to the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “In some cases, mailed statements will be available upon request to persons who need a statement but cannot use the online service.” The agency also plans to resume “Welcome to Social Security” mailings to workers at age 25, which will include information about the program and directions about how to sign up for online statements.

Annual paper statements were previously mailed to all workers age 25 and older about three months before each birthday. These 4-page mailings gave workers a personalized estimate of their future retirement benefit, the payment available if they become disabled, and the amount family members could receive if the worker dies. The statements also listed a worker’s entire earnings record and taxes paid so that they could be checked for errors.

[See Patty Duke Signs Up for Social Security.]

Some of the information provided in the written statements is already available online. Workers who have at least 40 credits of work can get an estimate of their retirement benefits using SSA’s retirement estimator. However, the tool does not provide estimates of disability and survivor’s benefits or access to your complete earnings record. And young workers and other people without long work histories are ineligible to use the tool.

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989 specifies the information that is required to be included in this mailing. “It’s always important to look for ways to cut costs, but there’s a good reason for the law requiring that these statements be mailed to workers. People rely on their statements for an accurate picture of their earnings and projected benefits,” says Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “It is vital that SSA does more to inform people without Internet access, many of whom will likely rely on Social Security in retirement.”

[See 10 Things You Didn't Know About Social Security.]

Kohl and Senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Special Committee on Aging, wrote Astrue last month with concerns about SSA’s decision to suspend mailing benefit statements to more than 150 million workers. “While the decision is a step in the right direction, it still doesn’t make sense to send to some folks but not to others,” says Nelson.

SSA says it would cost nearly $70 million to resume sending Social Security statements to all workers age 25 and older in fiscal year 2012. “Suspending Social Security statements, along with other cost savings measures, are necessary to maintain our most critical services,” says Astrue.

Twitter: @aiming2retire