Since the Social Security Administration Web site has an online retirement estimator, a reader asked, of what use is the paper Social Security statement? Both are useful.
The paper Social Security statement is mailed automatically to most people about three months before their birth month if at least age 25 and not receiving Social Security or on Medicare. Valuable for overall family financial planning, not just retirement planning, the statement provides estimated family benefits plus disability and survivor estimates. As useful as these are, the statement also provides needed information about your personal Social Security record that is not available online.
The statement contains a year-by-year printout of your reported earnings as shown on Social Security records, plus your name and birth date. As a security feature protecting you, this personal information does not appear with the online benefit estimator. Review all this information for accuracy and, if a problem exists, contact Social Security to correct it. Your work record is the basis for all benefits paid through your Social Security number. Mistakes could keep you or family members from getting all benefits earned. The sooner you identify mistakes, the easier it is correct them.
Finally, the mailed statement explains the protection you are earning under Social Security. People often incorrectly think of Social Security only as a retirement program. To complement the estimates, the statement shows how even young workers are building valuable protection for themselves and their families in case they become disabled or die before they reach retirement age. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a three in 10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age. The statement is an important tool for your financial planning.
The Social Security online retirement estimator, one of several tools in the SSA Plan Your Retirement section at (www.ssa.gov/retire2), provides similar retirement estimates to those on the statement with the advantage that you can instantly obtain multiple estimates, helping you explore various retirement options by varying your retirement age and annual earnings up to retirement. This feature lets you immediately compare, for example, differences in your estimated Social Security benefit amounts between retiring very early at age 55 with no additional earnings to continued working until an age 64 retirement.
The online retirement estimator is secure. To protect your privacy it shows only the retirement estimates, not your name, birthdate or earnings record information. This security is especially important if you use a public terminal or shared printer.
More about the Social Security statement and online retirement estimator, plus benefit information, online applications and other Social Security information is online at (www.socialsecurity.gov). For general information, to discuss your current benefits or to make an appointment to file for benefits you can call the SSA national toll-free number 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) between the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Most appointments made with the national number go to local offices based on zip code. To reach the Minot office directly, call 852-0604 between the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Questions of general interest can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.