Are you checking your Social Security benefits?
If not, you’re one of millions of Americans who have no clue if the government is keeping an accurate record of your earnings — and the benefits you’re entitled to in retirement.
Less than half of the 39 million Americans registered for the online “my Social Security” accounts checked their earnings statements in the previous 12 months, as of 2018. Just 14.6 million more Americans received mailed statements, according to a recent report from the inspector general. That means just a small portion of Americans got updates on their benefits, whether online or by mail.
This is an unintended consequence of the government’s effort to cut down the cost of sending paper Social Security statements.
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In 2000, anyone 25 and over automatically received a mailed statement each year. Now, only Americans over 60 who aren’t yet receiving benefits and don’t have online accounts get paper statements.
That means a lot of us are in the dark about an integral part of our retirement savings and planning.
Here’s why and how you should check your online Social Security account :
Why do this?
Social Security replaces a significant chunk of the income you lose when you retire – 40% on average. To estimate your benefits, the federal government uses your highest-earning 35 years. If the government records those earnings incorrectly, you may get fewer benefits.
Another reason to check your Social Security statement is to look for signs that someone stole your identity. If your earnings on the statement are wildly off from your own records, that could signal someone is illegally using your Social Security number.
What does my statement show?
Your statement shows how much you’ve paid in Social Security and Medicare taxes during your working years. It also estimates how much you would get in benefits when you reach full retirement age.
It also shows benefits you could be eligible for if you become disabled and can’t work, as well as survivor benefits.
It’s important to note that these are only estimates. Several factors could affect the actual benefits you receive when you retire:
- Ups and downs in your future earnings
- Cost-of-living increases to Social Security benefits
- Potential changes to Social Security
- Military service, railroad employment or pensions earned through work on which you did not pay Social Security tax
How do I get my statement
Online: You can register for “my Social Security” online at the Social Security Administration website. Enter your name, Social Security number, birthdate, address and phone number. Then answer questions based on your Equifax credit report to verify your identity. You will get a security code by text or email to complete the registration.
If your Equifax credit report is frozen, you will need to lift it first. If you have trouble signing up for an account online, visit a Social Security office for help.
Paper: If you want to receive your statement by mail, fill out Form SSA-7004 and mail it to the address on the form. You should receive the paper statement in the mail four to six weeks later.
How to check my statement
Review the earnings recorded on the statement and compare them with recent W-2 forms from your job. The estimates combine all earnings for the year, so if you had more than one job or earned income from a side hustle, make sure to add those up.
Remember that your earnings for last year may not be recorded yet depending on when you check. There’s also a limit on the total amount of earnings you contribute to Social Security. Any earnings above that limit won’t appear on the statement.
If you find an error on your earnings, contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213. Have your W-2 or tax return for the year in question handy.