Social Security Advice from The Social Security Maven

How to Obtain Your Social Security Statement Online

 If you are approaching eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits – or are already past age 62 – you may or may not have received your latest statement in the mail.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) stopped mailing statements in 2011 as part of a cost-cutting effort, but resumed sending them in 2012 to people over age 60.  In September 2014 SSA began mailing statements at 5-year intervals – beginning at age 25 up to age 60 – to folks who have not created an account that enables them to view their statements online.

SSA is clearly very interested in pushing people to use the online service, and if you can make it past the security guard at the online door, it is certainly the best way to keep tabs on your estimated Primary Insurance Amount and to make certain that your Earnings Record is correct.

Some people move through the process very quickly and smoothly; others are tripped up by a security question, or when they present information that does not match SSA’s records.  For example, one reported that she was asked questions related to her credit history, such as the date on which she opened a charge account at a certain department store.   Not remembering the answer, she took a stab at guessing the correct answer, got it wrong, and was tossed out of the system with instructions to visit her local SSA office.  Another person reported that he was directed to visit his local office when he was unable to satisfy the questions on a credit-related issue.

If you encounter this type of obstacle you may actually have to appear at your local SSA office with satisfactory identification (e.g., driver’s license, passport, etc.).  Once you prove that you are who you say you are, you should be given an access code that you can take home, allowing you to complete the process.  This can be a royal pain if you live in a metropolitan area, where the local office may resemble Ellis Island.  However, it appears that if you wait 24 hours from the time of the failed attempt, you may be able to try the online registration again.

Here’s how you join the brave new world of Social Security online:

  1. Go to http://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/
  2. Click on Create an Account
  3. Follow the instructions

 

Early in the process, you will encounter a statement that reads as follows:

“You can only create a my Social Security account using your own personal information and for your own exclusive use.  You cannot create or use an account on behalf of another person, even if you have that person’s written permission. You can never share the use of your account with anyone else under any circumstances. Unauthorized use of this service is a misrepresentation of your identity to the federal government and could subject you to criminal or civil penalties, or both.”

This means that technically you cannot ask your financial advisor, attorney, CPA, or Social Security Consultant to create your account for you, or access it once it’s established, without exposing them to possible criminal or civil liability.  It’s not clear as to whether or why SSA would want to prevent you from asking a trusted friend or family member to do it for you, but I see many spouses helping each other in this way.

Once your online account is up and running you may access your statement at any time.

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Approaching Social Security Claiming Decisions

The Social Security system helps protect individuals and couples against a variety of risks. For those with
modest means and limited outside sources of income, Social Security retirement benefits can become
a very important source of retirement income. Payments arrive monthly, like clockwork, deposited directly into the recipient’s bank account. The benefit amounts are inflation-protected to some extent, as annual Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) are declared based on movements in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and  Clerical Workers (CPI-W) . Benefits continue for the lifetime of the claimant and, in the case of married couples, may also continue for the remaining lifetime of the surviving spouse. In this way, Social Security may constitute an  important source of protection against the possibility of outliving one’s assets.

 

Don’t Claim Based on Worries about the Solvency of the Trust Fund

On July 22, the Social Security Administration released the latest Trustees Report on the status of the Social Security Trust Fund.  The Trustees forecast a small but positive uptick in the long-term projections for the fund as compared to a year ago.

In the 2014 report, the Trustees had estimated that the combined asset reserves the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds would be depleted in 2033, and would be able to pay 77% of benefits after that time.  The 2015 report estimates that those asset reserves will become depleted in 2034, one year later than projected last year, with 79 percent of benefits payable at that time.

The projections regarding the Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds are much less optimistic: that fund is expected to become depleted in the fourth quarter of 2016, with 81 percent of benefits still payable.”

You can download and view the news release at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/news/press/releases/#/post/7-2015-1, and the entire report at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2015/tr2015.pdf.

Predicting the state of the Social Security Trust Fund 20 years from now is likely to be far more difficult than predicting the weather next month or timing the market.  The Trustees’ current estimates assume that Congress does nothing to shore up the system.  Even if our congressional representatives in Washington do nothing and the reserves are depleted by 2034, it is highly debatable as to whether those who “take the money and run” will fare better than those who stay the course.

 

 

I attended a webinar Peter did last year for the Small Business Council of America, as well a live presentation he did in Orlando this year and found the material absolutely fascinating.  I don’t consider myself anything of a Social Security expert, but I couldn’t believe how much I learned from him.  If I come across an employer with an appropriate workforce, I will definitely pass along a strong recommendation that they contact Peter to provide some Social Security education and individualized advice.

Gary Kushner, SPHR, CBP –

President and CEO, Kushner & Company, HR and Organizational Architects, Portage, Michigan

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When we went into the local Social Security Administration office to do the paperwork, the SSA representative we met with said that I would be entitled to only 75% of what Peter said I would receive. Peter followed up instantly by providing the citation to the appropriate Social Security rules; the SSA representative spoke with his supervisor and agreed that Peter had been correct.

I continue to recommend the Social Security Maven to my friends and clients who are trying to figure out their own Social Security benefits. Using Peter as a resource turned out to be a really smart decision for us.

Richard Rubin and Jayne Israel

Plainfield, VT