Until last year, Social Security sent taxpayers an annual personalized statement showing a complete record of their taxable earnings as well as estimated retirement, disability and survivor benefits based on those earnings. Unfortunately, budget constraints put an end to those yearly mailings.
But there's good news: Social Security has resumed mailing paper statements to workers 60 and older who aren't already receiving benefits. And, a new Social Security Statement tool was recently launched that allows you to access the same information online.
Once you've created an account, you can log in anytime and:
Estimate the retirement, disability and survivor benefits available to you under different work, earnings and retirement age scenarios.
Estimate benefits for which your family would be eligible when you receive Social Security or die.
View a list of your lifetime earnings to date, according to Social Security's records;
See the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you've paid over your working career.
Find information about qualifying and signing up for Medicare.
Review topics to consider if you're 55 or older and thinking about retiring.
Apply online for retirement and disability benefits.
Access a printable version of your Social Security Statement.
To create your online account, go to www.ssa.gov/mystatement and follow the directions. You must have a valid e-mail address, Social Security number, U.S. mailing address and be at least age 18.
You'll need to verify your identity by providing personal information (birth date, Social Security number, current address, etc.) and answering several questions whose answers only you should know. Social Security contracts with credit bureau Experian to design these questions based on their records about your credit history.
Once your identity has been verified, you can create a password-protected account. Social Security emphasizes that you may sign into or create an account to access only your own information. Unauthorized use could subject you to criminal and/or civil penalties.
It's important to review your Social Security statement at least annually to ensure your on-file information is correct. For example, make sure that your taxable earnings have been reported correctly by your employer – or you, if self-employed. Otherwise, when Social Security calculates your benefits at retirement, disability or death, you could be shortchanged; or, if your earnings were over-reported, you could end up owing the government money.
If you spot any errors, contact Social Security at 800-772-1213, or visit your local office. You'll need copies of your W-2 form or tax return for any impacted years.
Another valuable piece of information found in your statement is an estimate of what your retirement benefit will be at age 62, at full retirement age and at age 70. Use those numbers to start estimating your retirement needs. These online calculators can help:
The Retirement Estimator at www.ssa.gov/estimator automatically enters your earnings information to estimate your projected Social Security benefits under different scenarios, such as age at retirement, future earnings projections, etc. You can also download a more detailed calculator to make more precise estimates.
AARP has a retirement calculator at www.aarp.org that helps determine your current financial status and what you'll need to save to meet your retirement needs.
Bottom line: Understand what Social Security benefits will be available to you and how much more you'll need to save in order to have a comfortable retirement.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. Sign up for his free monthly e-Newsletter at www.practicalmoneyskills.com /newsletter.