Social Security is an integral part of retirement for most Americans. It’s a benefit that’s paid into and it can account for a portion of your income in your later years. However, many people take their future Social Security income for granted, failing to review their Social Security Statement for accuracy and planning purposes. Fortunately, reviewing your statement is easy to do with Social Security online services.
If you are on the road to retirement, even if the date is decades away, it’s essential to consider the income benefit you can expect to earn from Social Security. Your Social Security Statement is key to finding the details you need to know.
What Is a Social Security Statement?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) makes Social Security statements available to show taxpayers the estimated benefits they will be entitled to receive upon retirement or if they become disabled.
The statement contains the following information:
- An earnings record tracing back to your first job
- The amount of social security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid since you started working
- Your retirement benefit at full retirement age
- The highest retirement benefit you can receive if you delay collecting until age 70
- The lowest retirement benefit you would receive if you begin collecting at the earliest eligible age of 62
- Your disability insurance benefit in the event that you’d need to file a claim
- Survivor’s benefits for your spouse and dependent children if you were to die while receiving Social Security
Because your Social Security retirement benefit is based on your taxed wage or self-employment earnings history, the number fluctuates over time. When you retire, your actual benefits will be calculated based on the 35 highest-earning years of your career.
While the estimated benefit on the statement assumes that you’ll continue to earn at the same level that you earned in the most recent tax year, that might not be true. If your future income earnings are higher, your benefit amount will increase; if your earnings drop dramatically over time, the benefit amount may decrease.
Why Is It Important to Review Your Social Security Statement?
It’s important to review your Social Security statement for both accuracy and planning purposes.
As part of your retirement planning, it’s important to be able to accurately assess the amount of income you’ll need in addition to your benefits. Once you have a clear idea about the benefits you’ll receive, you can more effectively determine how much you’ll need to save and invest to build a portfolio that produces adequate additional income or secure other income sources.
For example, if you estimate that you’ll need to bring in $5,500 per month in retirement to cover your expenses and lifestyle, but your Social Security benefits estimate is $1,800 per month, your retirement investment portfolio needs to generate the difference of $3,700 per month. This means you’ll need to have a generously funded retirement portfolio, find a way to cut expenses, or secure other sources of retirement income.
Aside from retirement planning, it’s also important to know what your benefit would be if you needed to file a disability claim. This can help you determine how much additional disability insurance you would need to support yourself and your family.
Your Social Security Statement contains more than information that’s just nice to know—it contains information that’s critical for responsible financial planning. If you don’t check and you’re unaware of what your estimated benefit is projected to be, you can’t properly estimate how much you’ll need to supplement your benefits.
You should regularly check your account carefully to be sure your name and date of birth are correct and to make certain it shows the correct earnings information for each year. Again, the benefit you or your family receive is going to depend on your earnings record. If all of your earnings are not reported on your record, it could mean a lower benefit.
While your most recent earnings may not appear on the statement yet, if earlier earnings are missing from your record, it could be cause for concern. Employers often make mistakes, and changing your name sometimes causes errors as well. If you don’t review your statement, you might not catch the error before it’s too late.
How Can I View My Social Security Statement online?
In the past, reviewing your Social Security Statement meant waiting for your annual statement to be sent to you in the mail or requesting a statement from the Social Security Administration (SSA) through the U.S. Postal Service. These days, you have the much more convenient option of accessing it through Social Security online services. Simply go to the SSA website and create a mySocial Security account.
In order to set up your account, you must be able to verify identifying information about yourself as well as have a valid email address, Social Security number, a U.S. mailing address, and be at least 18 years of age.
It’s a simple process. Once you have a username and password, you will be able to access your account at any time to review your Social Security Statement.
What Should I Do If I Find Incorrect Information on my Social Security Statement?
If you find incorrect or missing information on your Social Security statement, you should take steps to correct the issue. You’ll need proof of the correct earnings, such as a W-2 form, tax return, pay stub, or other documents proving your work and income. If you’re no longer able to access documented proof, you’ll need to gather information about where you worked, including the name of your employer, the name and Social Security number you used, dates employed, and how much you earned.
Armed with the correct information and any documentation you have, you can then contact the Social Security Administration for help with correcting your record. It can be a time-consuming process, as the SSA may need to contact your past employers to verify records, so the sooner you start, the better. As you approach retirement, you’ll wish you had not delayed.
The bottom line is, reviewing your statement and estimated benefits using Social Security online services is easy, fast, and well worth the time and effort. Having the foundational information you need for retirement planning and knowing whether the SSA has accurate information on file for you will only pay off in the end. Skipping this simple step on the road to retirement can backfire, so start taking action now.
Robert "Fenn" Giles, Jr., MBA, CIMA® is a founding partner of Wealth Advisors of Tampa Bay (WATB) and acts as the firm’s President and Chief Investment Officer. WATB is an independent Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) located in Tampa, Florida. Learn more about them at wealthadvtb.com.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
This material was prepared by Crystal Marketing Solutions, LLC, and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate and is intended merely for educational purposes, not as advice.