Workers age 18 and older can now access their Social Security statements online, the Social Security Administration announced today. For the first time, workers can view their earnings history and expected Social Security payout via their home computer.
"Our new online Social Security statement is simple, easy-to-use, and provides people with estimates they can use to plan for their retirement," says Michael Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. "The online statement also provides estimates for disability and survivors benefits, making the statement an important financial planning tool."
Your complete earnings history and the total Social Security and Medicare taxes you have paid over your working career are listed in the online statement. You can easily compare the retirement benefit you can expect to receive at age 62, at your full retirement age, and at age 70. Workers are also informed of the amount they will receive if they become disabled and how much their spouse or children will get if they pass away. There is an option to save or print out a copy of the four-page statement workers previously received in the mail.
To get access to a personalized online Social Security statement, workers must be able to provide personal information to verify their identity. You will need to answer a series of multiple-choice questions that might include inquiries about financial products you own, previous addresses, and even whether you have pet insurance. Data from the credit reporting agency Experian is used for verification purposes, but Social Security numbers are not shared with Experian. Individuals who cannot correctly answer the security questions based on information on file with Experian and Social Security will have the option to verify their identity and create an online account in person at a local Social Security office or to request that a paper Social Security statement be mailed to them.
Workers age 18 and older who have correctly verified their personal information will be invited to create a user name and password that will allow them to access their online statement. You will receive a paper letter and e-mail saying that you created an account. For added security, you can also set up a text-message alert for each time someone logs into your account. The portal includes links to other online services, including applications for retirement and disability benefits and Medicare.
The Social Security Administration spent approximately $2 million to develop the online Social Security statement tool in-house. And the agency expects to spend $7 million in the first year the tool is available primarily paying Experian for their data verification services and for the one-time mailings when workers first sign up for online Social Security statement accounts. But SSA expects this cost to decline in future years because they will do fewer mailings. In contrast, it costs about $70 million to print and mail paper statements to all adults age 25 and older each year, according to SSA. The data in the tool will be updated annually as the agency receives new earnings data. "People should get in the habit of checking their online statement each year, around their birthday, for example," says Astrue.
The online statements include considerably more information than the SSA's older retirement estimator tool, which provides estimates of retirement benefits to workers with at least 40 credits of work, but not disability or survivor's benefits or access to your complete earnings history. And young people and other workers with a short earnings history are ineligible to use the retirement estimator. However, the retirement estimator will remain available to workers who wish to use it.
Paper Social Security statements were previously mailed to all workers age 25 and older about three months before their birthday, but these annual mailings were suspended in April 2011 to save money. In February 2012, SSA resumed mailing paper statements to workers age 60 and older who are not yet receiving benefits. Later this year, the agency plans to begin mailing paper statements to workers in the year they reach age 25.
Online Social Security statements are the latest in a series of paperless changes to help the agency save money. The SSA has released a series of successful public service announcements starring Patty Duke that encourage workers to sign up for Social Security benefits online. And new Social Security recipients are no longer allowed the option to sign up for paper Social Security checks. Payments must be received by direct deposit to a bank account or via a prepaid Direct Express Debit MasterCard. Retirees currently receiving paper checks must switch to electronic payments by March 1, 2013.