In today’s digital age, it has become so much easier to accomplish what used to be done in person or via the mail. Information is at your fingertips. And that includes information about your Social Security benefits.
Whether you’re entering your 60s or you’re still decades away from retirement, creating a “my Social Security” account1 with the Social Security Administration is a great idea. Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t wait any longer:
1. You can help prevent fraud and identity theft
If criminals obtain your Social Security number, they may try to open a my Social Security account in your name and redirect your benefits to an account they control. But if you open your my Social Security account now, you can help prevent this scenario, since you can only have one my Social Security account open per Social Security number.
You can also identify whether anyone has already tried to file a claim for benefits in your name, giving you a chance to correct the fraud now before it grows into a bigger problem.
2. You can verify that your earnings on record are correct
Social Security statements provide an individual’s earnings history and projections of their future benefit amount, which is based on their 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. (Click here to view a sample Social Security statement.)2
As of 2021, the only people who receive Social Security statements by mail are those aged 60 and older who aren’t receiving benefits and don’t have a my Social Security account.3
Regardless of how old you are, you can get your Social Security statement online by creating a my Social Security account. And by doing so, you can check your record of annual earnings to verify its accuracy. If your Social Security earnings record is incorrect and any of your earnings are underreported, you can then correct the mistake — so long as you’re within the time limit.
The Social Security Administration allows you to correct a record up to three years, three months and 15 days after the year in which you earned the income.4 Setting up a my Social Security account now let’s you begin verifying your earnings record on an annual basis and prevent you from running into this three-year deadline.
3. You can better plan for retirement
From a retirement-planning perspective, it’s extremely beneficial to know your projected benefit amount before you near retirement. This helps you better understand what supplemental income you’ll need to have from sources such as savings accounts, 401(k)s and investment accounts, as well as when you should begin to take your Social Security benefits.
When you take Social Security depends on a number of factors, including taxes, future income sources, estimated cash flow needs, current and future healthcare needs, your spouse’s benefit amount, whether you’re widowed or divorced, and whether you’ll continue to work until you reach your full retirement age.
Because individuals under age 60 don’t receive Social Security statements in the mail, you should sign up for a my Social Security account now so you can view your projected benefit and start using it in your retirement planning. We recommend working with a financial advisor to review your full financial picture, plan for different scenarios and help you achieve your financial goals.
4. You can apply for your Social Security benefit
It used to be your only two options to apply for your benefit was 1) visiting a Social Security office (which are closed right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic) for an in-person interview or 2) conducting a phone interview.
Now, if you have a my Social Security account, you can use it to apply to begin receiving your benefit, your spousal benefit or your divorced spousal benefit. With the convenience that comes from applying online, you can start the application and come back to it later. Plus, you can avoid waiting hours on the phone just to schedule your interview. (Although you won’t have the benefit of walking through everything with a professional if you take the online route.)
Note that you cannot file for other benefits (such as survivor benefits, parent benefits or child-in-care spousal benefits) using my Social Security; those still require a phone interview.
Setting up your my Social Security account
As you can imagine, signing up for your my Social Security account will require you to verify your identity. To do so, you need to upload a copy of a valid ID and/or answer a series of questions. The Social Security Administration uses Equifax as its identity services provider, which means you may see a “soft” enquiry on your credit report. This enquiry won’t affect your credit score, and there are no related charges.
If you have a credit freeze in place, you will want to unfreeze your credit before signing up for a my Social Security account, or else you may run into problems verifying your identity and completing the setup process.5
Planning for your retirement
Given the benefits in verifying your earnings record and preventing fraud, it’s never too early to set up your my Social Security account. Even individuals just starting their first job should set up their account. And it’s never too late, either. Even if you’re in your 60s and are receiving statements via the mail, the benefits discussed above are significant enough for you to set up your account now.
After you’ve signed up, it’s time to factor in your retirement planning needs. The median retirement savings for Americans aged 55-64 is only $104,000,6 and even if you factor in Social Security payments, it’s unlikely to cover living expenses, healthcare costs and other needs you’ll have in retirement.
Wipfli Financial Advisors can help make sure you’re on track to live the lifestyle you desire in your retirement, from planning around your Social Security benefit to choosing the right savings vehicles.
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