Verifying your personal and earnings information with the Social Security Administration will help ensure that your future Social Security income is calculated correctly.
In addition to double-checking the Agency’s figure for your annual earnings against your own records, you’ll want to double-check the Agency’s record of important dates, including your birthdate and dates of marriage and divorce, as those can have a significant impact on your Social Security benefits.
Depending on your age, the length of your marriage, and your current marriage status, you may be eligible to claim Social Security benefits under an ex-spouse or spouse’s earnings record. Because women generally live longer than men, have lower incomes than men, and spend less total time in the workforce, they are likely to accrue less in Social Security and retirement savings. Therefore, retirement income for women will often be maximized by claiming Social Security benefits under the earnings record of a spouse or previous spouse. Confirming the accuracy of Social Security records, including marriage details, is thus particularly important for women.1
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 narrowed the options for claiming benefits under a spouse’s earnings record, potentially decreasing the lifetime amount of retirement benefits available to married couples born after January 1, 1954. Married couples in which one spouse was born before January 2, 1954 and has not yet claimed their Social Security benefits may still be able to increase lifetime benefits by first claiming a spousal or ex-spousal benefits before switching to his/her own retirement benefit as late as age 70.2
Everyone makes mistakes, and the Social Security Administration is not exempt. In its Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2020, the Agency estimated that it had made roughly $7.9 billion worth of improper payments in the previous fiscal year alone. Of those, about 84 percent were overpayments while 16 percent were underpayments.3
To reduce your chances of delayed or incorrect benefit payments, it’s important that you check your Social Security statement periodically and notify the Agency of any errors. If you are a worker over 60, don’t currently receive Social Security benefits, and don’t yet have an online "my Social Security" account, you should receive a paper estimated benefit statement in the mail every year about three months before your birthday. (Those younger than 60 no longer receive mailed statements as of 20194.) To request a paper statement in the mail at any other time, you can visit a local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
Signing up for a secure online "my Social Security" account through the socialsecurity.gov website will give you 24/7 access to the most recent information related to your earnings record, as well as benefit estimator tools, a directory of local offices, and more. This website portal outperformed the best-scoring industry site (Amazon.com) in a 2012 consumer satisfaction comparison.5
1 - "What Every Woman Should Know," Social Security Administration Publication No. 05-10127, January 2021. Available at https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10127.pdf
2 - "Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 Closes Social Security Loophole," Social Security Administration Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs, April 2016. Available at https://www.ssa.gov/legislation/Bipartisan%20Budget%20Act%20Closes%20Social%20Security%20Loophole%20updated.pdf
3 - "Fiscal Year 2020 Inspector General’s Statement on the Social Security Administration’s Major Management and Performance Challenges," Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, November 2020. Available at https://www.ssa.gov/finance/2020/OIG%20Mgmt%20Challenges.pdf
4 - https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/12/09/yes-social-security-administration-should-mail-out-paper-statements-again-heres-why/
5 - "Revamped government websites boost citizen satisfaction," C. Tuutti, Federal Computer Week, February 06, 2013. Available at http://fcw.com/articles/2013/02/05/federal-website-satisfaction.aspx