Millions of Americans Ignore This Free Retirement Planning Tool

Photo by Aaron Amat / Shutterstock.com

The number of people who have registered for a mySocialSecurity account has skyrocketed since the Social Security Administration debuted the online portal in May 2012. Yet, the percentage of users who access their statement online has plummeted.

A recent report from SSA’s inspector general reveals that in fiscal year 2012, there were about 2 million registered mySocialSecurity users, and 96% of them accessed their statement online. By 2018, there were about 38.8 million users — but only 43% accessed their statement online.

It’s a good idea to create a mySocialSecurity account even if you never use it: The act of claiming your account can thwart identity thieves, as we detail in “3 Free Ways to Protect Your Social Security Number.”

Still, if you aren’t also using your mySocialSecurity account to actually access your statement, you’re ignoring a free retirement planning tool that is key to ensuring you will receive all the Social Security retirement benefits you’ve earned.

Checking your Social Security statement routinely

Your Social Security statement includes both your estimated benefits and your earnings records, among other details. You can view a sample statement on the SSA’s website.

Your estimated benefits are a basic piece your retirement planning puzzle. It’s all but impossible to calculate your total retirement income without knowing how much you can expect to receive in Social Security retirement benefits each month.

Your earnings record is the SSA’s record of your lifetime earnings. Regularly reviewing its accuracy is critical, because your earnings directly affect how much you will receive in Social Security retirement benefits.

The sample statement explains:

“Remember, it’s your earnings, not the amount of taxes you paid or the number of credits you’ve earned, that determine your benefit amount. When we figure that amount, we base it on your average earnings over your lifetime. If our records are wrong, you may not receive all the benefits to which you’re entitled.”

As we detail in “7 Social Security Terms You Should Know to Boost Benefits,” if an employer improperly reports your earnings for even one year, that inaccuracy could end up costing you $100 in benefits every month. That’s $1,200 every year — for the duration of your retirement.

Another reason to review your earnings record regularly is because the sooner you notice a discrepancy, the easier it will likely be to correct. You may need tax documents like a Form W-2 to correct your earnings record. You are more likely to have such documents on hand if relatively little time has elapsed between the time you were paid and when you discovered the error.

Creating a mySocialSecurity account

As we report in “Social Security Checklist: 7 Tasks You Must Do Before Claiming,” anyone who is at least 18 years old and has a Social Security number, email address and mailing address can create a mySocialSecurity account.

To register for an account, visit SSA.gov, the official website of the Social Security Administration.

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