At what age will you retire? How much can you expect to receive each month when you do? These are important questions even if you are decades away from retirement, and there’s an easy way to get answers anytime. We’re going to show you how to get your Social Security benefits statement online and what to do with it once you’ve got it.
A little background:
Depending on your age, you may remember getting a printed Social Security benefits statement in the mail. Prior to 2011, the Social Security Administration (SSA) mailed statements to all workers every year. Those annual mailings were discontinued in 2011 as a cost-saving measure. The following year, the SSA made the statements available online, but their decision caused a bit of an uproar. Despite the agency’s outreach campaign, far fewer people registered for an account than there were eligible workers. So in 2014, Congress required the agency to resume sending printed statements every five years to workers age 25 and older who hadn’t registered for an online account.
That schedule remained until earlier this year when the agency announced that due to budget restraints, paper benefit statements will only be mailed to people who are 60 or older, have not established an online account, and are not yet receiving Social Security benefits. Simply put, don’t expect to get a printed statement anytime soon.
How to get your Social Security benefits statement
Accessing your Social Security benefits statement online is pretty simple, as long as you have an email address and can provide some basic identifying information.
First, go to ssa.gov/myaccount and click on “Sign In or Create an Account.”
If you’ve never created an online account with the SSA, you’ll click on “Create an Account.” If you’ve set up an account before, you won’t be able to create a new account using the same Social Security number. If you’ve forgotten your username or password, the SSA website offers tools to help recover them.
When you select “Create an Account,” the site will lead you through a few questions to verify your identity. You’ll need to provide personal information that matches the information on file with the SSA as well as some information matching your credit report.
Ryder Taff, a Certified Financial Adviser with New Perspectives, Inc. of Ridgeland, Miss., helps many of his clients set up Social Security accounts and says the questions often have to do with past residences or vehicles that may have been registered in your name.
If you have trouble setting up your account online, you can call the SSA for help at 1-800-772-1213.
Information in a Social Security benefits statement
Your Social Security benefits statement provides several valuable pieces of information:
- A record of your earnings, by year, since you began having Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld.
- Estimated retirement benefits if you begin claiming Social Security at age 62, full retirement age, or age 70.
- Estimated disability benefits if you became disabled right now.
- Estimated survivor benefits that your spouse or child would receive if you were to die this year.
Here’s a sample of what your benefits statement will look like:
Keep in mind that the estimated benefits shown are just that — estimates. The amounts shown are calculated based on average earnings over your lifetime and assume you’ll continue earning your most recent annual wages until you start receiving benefits. They are also calculated in today’s dollars without any adjustment for inflation. The amount you receive could also be impacted by any changes enacted by Congress from now until the time you retire.
What to do with your Social Security benefit statement
It’s a good idea to check your earnings record for errors once per year. It’s not uncommon for earnings from certain employers or even all of your earnings from an entire year to be missing, and you’ll want to get that corrected right away because benefits are calculated on your highest 35 years of earnings. “Any missing years will be just as damaging as a zero on a test was to your GPA,” Taff says. “Gather your documents and correct ANY missing years, even if they aren’t the highest salary. Every dollar counts!”
If you do spot any errors, grab your W-2 or tax return for the year in question and call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213. You can also report errors by writing to the SSA at:
Social Security Agency
Office of Earnings Operations
P.O. Box 33026
Baltimore, MD 21290-3026
Reading your statement is also a good reminder of how much you need to save for retirement outside of Social Security. Chances are, you won’t be happy living on just your Social Security income in retirement.
The good news is, the longer you delay taking your benefit, the higher your annual benefit will be. You can begin taking Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, but your payments will be smaller than they would be if you waited until full retirement age (FRA). Currently, your annual benefit increases by 8% for each year you delay taking your benefit from FRA until age 70.
Colin Exelby, president and founder of Celestial Wealth Management in Towson, Md., says that using your Social Security benefits statement can be particularly useful for retirement planning for couples. “Depending on your age, health, family health history, and financial situation there are a number of different ways to claim your benefits,” he says. “Each individual situation is different, and many couples have different views on the decision.”
If you are nearing retirement, you can use your benefits statement to work with a financial adviser to help you maximize total benefits, or run through various scenarios using a free online tool like the one provided by AARP.
Setting up your Social Security account is simple, free, and helpful for retirement planning, but it’s also a good security measure. It’s impossible to set up more than one account per Social Security number, so registering your account is a good way to prevent identity thieves from establishing an account on your behalf.
Take the time to set up your Social Security account and find out how much you might be entitled to receive in benefits. It could help you feel more empowered to take charge of your retirement plan.