By Glenn Ruffenach
One of the best tools to help with retirement planning is back: Social Security statements are now available online.
Last week, the Social Security Administration added a feature to its website – My Social Security – that enables workers to view online their earnings and benefit information. Starting in 1999, that data had been mailed annually to workers, but the agency suspended the paper mailings early last year as a cost-cutting measure.
At the time, the decision drew mixed reactions: While the savings in paper and money were welcome (the mailings cost about $60 million a year), the statements were a simple and effective means of highlighting the expected size of one’s Social Security benefits at various retirement ages, along with estimates for disability and survivors benefits.
At the same time, the annual mailings provided a history of the worker’s annual earnings. As such, individuals could easily see whether their earnings had been posted accurately in Social Security’s database. (Your eventual monthly benefit is based on your average earnings over your lifetime. If your earnings records are incorrect, your eventual benefit is likely to be in error, as well.)
Now, all this information is available again – online. (Note: In February,
the Social Security Administration resumed mailing paper statements to workers age 60 and older who are not already receiving benefits. Later this year, the agency plans to mail paper statements to workers in the year they reach age 25.)
The new system, designed for people age 18 and older, first seeks to verify your identify. You are asked to provide information about yourself, as well as answer security questions. If the information matches the data already on file with Social Security, you then create a “My Social Security” account with a user name and password. At that point, you can access your Social Security statement online.
Among other features, the electronic statement provides:
– Estimates of retirement and disability benefits
– Estimates of benefits your family may get when you receive Social Security or die
– A list of your lifetime earnings according to Social Security’s records
– The estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you have paid
– Information about qualifying and signing up for Medicare
– Issues to consider for those age 55 and older who are thinking of retiring
– The opportunity to apply online for retirement and disability benefits
– A printable version of your Social Security statement