Dear Savvy Senior: I’m 58 years old and working on a plan for my retirement. I’ve read that I need to check my Social Security statement every year to validate its accuracy. How do I go about doing this? — Planning Ahead
Dear Planning: Checking your official Social Security statement every year is a smart move to make sure your posted earnings are correct, which will ensure you get the benefits you’re entitled to. But most Americans don’t do it. In fact, most U.S workers have never even created a digital “My Social Security Account” so they can access their statement information. Here’s what you should know.
In 2017, as a cost-cutting measure, the Social Security Administration stopped mailing paper Social Security statements to everyone under age 60.
The only people who still get statements in the mail are those over age 60 who aren’t yet getting benefits and who haven’t set up an online account. (Paper statements, however, are still available to anyone on request by submitting form SSA-7004.)
If you haven’t done so, you should create a “My Social Security A” that will give you instant access to your personal Social Security statement so you can check your earning record and get estimates of your future retirement benefits at full retirement age, as well as at age 62 and age 70. Your statement will also let you know how much you would qualify for if you become disabled, and how much your family members will receive in survivors benefits if you die.
How to create an account
To create an account, go to SSA.gov/myaccount. When you open the account, you’ll be asked to enter your Social Security number and birth date, and you’ll also be prompted to answer a series of multiple-choice questions that might include inquiries about financial products you own and previous addresses to confirm your identity. Then you’ll receive a code by either email or text, which you will enter online to complete the process.
If you have a problem creating an online account, call 800-772-1213. After you establish an account, you’ll get an annual email reminder to log on and review your statement.
If you have a security freeze on your credit report to help ward off fraud, you must lift it temporarily to set up your online Social Security account. Specifically, you’ll need to thaw the freeze at Equifax, the company the administration currently uses to help verify users’ identities.
Creating an online account is also a good idea to prevent someone else from fraudulently creating one first and using it to steal benefit payments in the future. Given the number of security breaches in recent years, it’s possible someone may be able to illegally obtain your sensitive personal information, like your Social Security number, and use it to set up an account in your name.
Once you get access to your statement, compare the earnings listed on your statement with your own tax records or W-2 statements. You have to correct errors within 3 years, 3 months and 15 days following the year of the mistake. If you happen to spot a discrepancy within that time limit, call 800-772-1213 to report the error. Some corrections can be made over the phone, or you may need to schedule an appointment and go in with copies of your W-2 forms or tax returns to prove the mistake, or you can mail it in.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.