Understanding Social Security: Find out what Social Security knows about you
Your account at Social Security, known to SSA as “my Social Security,” has recently undergone some changes.
Before, you were able to view and download the old, familiar paper statement — the one that’s been around for a long, long time, and that used to be mailed out to you once a year. That’s all changed now, and if you get a mailed statement, you’re in the minority.
Nowadays, all the cool kids are looking at their Social Security eligibility information and other records online. You can still view and print the statement if you’d like, but the statement itself has undergone a makeover as well.
The first item you’ll see on your my Social Security account is the link for your Social Security statement. This is the replacement for the original statement that used to be mailed out once a year.
If you were familiar with the old statement, you’ll notice some major changes with the new one. First of all, it is now only two pages in length, while the old one was four. The new statement is also more visually appealing, in that there is a graph on the first page depicting your potential benefits at various ages. Before, this information was summarized as only a few different points (at age 62 or your current age if older, at full retirement age, and at age 70), but now you can see the effect on your potential benefit amount for each year’s delay in filing age.
Included on the first page is a warning that your potential benefits could be different if you are participating in a retirement plan or pension that was not covered by Social Security taxation (more on this a bit later).
The next section gives you information about your eligibility for Social Security benefits. Here you’ll find an indicator of whether you have currently earned enough credits (quarterly earnings credits) to qualify for Social Security benefits. Typically you must earn 40 quarterly credits to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. This number may be lower for Social Security disability benefits if you’re younger.
An important statement is included in this paragraph, indicating that the projections displayed by the graph on the right are based on the assumption that your Social Security-covered earnings from your most recently-reported year will continue at the same rate until at least the filing age indicated in the graph. If your earnings are more or less than the most recent sample (the actual amount is listed), then your potential benefit could be more or less.
Next comes a statement about your eligibility for disability benefits. As mentioned above, depending on your age, you might be eligible for disability benefits with fewer quarterly earnings credits than the typical 40 required for retirement benefits. The amount of disability benefits, if you’re eligible, will be listed as well.
Following the disability paragraph, you’ll find a paragraph about potential survivor benefits that might be available to your surviving spouse (for two possible situations, either as a mother’s or father’s benefit while caring for your child under the age of 16, or simply as a surviving spouse with no young children) as well as benefits for your surviving dependent children under 18 or that are disabled. Lastly in this section will be a total family benefit amount that could be a limiting factor for your dependents that are receiving benefits based on your earnings record.
The last item on this first page is an overview of your eligibility for Medicare benefits, which includes the age and condition limitations for eligibility as well. Included here is information regarding timing of your enrollment for Medicare, as well as how to find more information to enroll.
On page 2 of your statement, you’ll find information about your lifetime earnings record. This portion of the statement is condensed from the complete earnings records. Your earliest years of earnings are compiled by decades, showing only the aggregate amount of earnings subject to Social Security and Medicare taxation. Your last decade of earnings is typically listed year-by-year, which is helpful to review to make sure there aren’t any recent problems with the amounts that Social Security has maintained on your record.
If you need the full year-to-year listing of your earnings record, you simply need to go back to the my Social Security account and scroll down a bit to the link “Review your full earnings record now”; this will provide you with a listing of all of the years of your earnings record on file with Social Security, in case you need to correct any issues.
Next on the statement is a summary of the amount of taxes you and your employer have paid based on your earnings over your lifetime. Often this is a surprising amount — it’s been a lot of money over the years. However, if you put the tax numbers into context with the benefit amounts listed on the first page, it’s actually a pretty good deal all around — assuming you live long enough to receive the benefits for a good while.
In the right hand column of page 2, you’ll find information that was alluded to at the beginning: if you had earnings that were not covered by Social Security taxation and those earnings produced a pension (or other retirement benefit), the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) might reduce your Social Security retirement benefit. In a similar fashion (but calculated much differently), if you are receiving such a pension from a governmental entity while also receiving Social Security benefits based on someone else’s record (such as your spouse, ex-spouse, or late spouse), then the Government Pension Offset (GPO) could impact the amount of your benefit.
The very last portion of the statement gives you some good information and insight into how Social Security benefits work, for you, your spouse, and your dependents, if they qualify. There are also references to websites that you might want to review to get more information on your potential benefits.
Going back to the my Social Security account page, next on the page after the statement is a link to a fact sheet called “Retirement Ready”. This fact sheet will give you a brief overview of what you need to know as you approach retirement age.
Another link is available which goes over what you need to know about WEP and GPO, if you have had earnings that were not covered by Social Security.
There is also a link that you can use to access the form to request a replacement Social Security card if you’ve lost yours.
Lastly in this section, you may also produce a letter from Social Security providing attestation that you either are or are not currently receiving Social Security benefits. Some other benefit applications or agencies may require this attestation letter.
Next up is a graphic display of your quarterly earning credits – indicating where you stand in terms of your eligibility for benefits. Just beneath this graph is the link to view your complete earnings record that I mentioned before.
The next section, possibly the most valuable section, is a planning tool which you can use to model different changes to your circumstances. Initially this tool will show your potential Social Security retirement benefits based on the assumptions that Social Security makes when projecting benefits. This includes the fact that your earnings will remain the same from now until your “retirement”, and that you are working and earning at that rate until the date your Social Security retirement benefit begins.
These factors can be adjusted — you can model a larger or smaller earnings amount, as well as model the inclusion of your spouse’s Social Security benefits, which can help you discover whether or not spousal benefits are applicable for you or your spouse. This can be a low-cost, high level overview to help you in your decision about when to file for Social Security retirement benefits.
This section also includes a link to start your application for retirement benefits, as well as more information about what you’ll need as you apply for benefits.
Following the planning tool, you’ll find information about Disability benefits, Medicare benefits, and other information that might be useful to you as you plan your retirement.