A Push for Social Security to Resume Mailing Annual Updates

With so much financial information available online, who needs paperwork cluttering your desk? But some members of Congress want Americans to get at least one financial document on paper: their annual Social Security statement.

Until a decade ago, the federal Social Security Administration mailed statements each year to millions of workers, shortly before their birthdays. The statements contain a year-by-year ledger of their annual earnings, as well as estimates of their monthly check in retirement.

The mailings had begun years earlier through the efforts of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who argued that workers regularly had money withheld from their paychecks for Social Security but never heard from the program. He considered the mailings an important tool to educate the public.

But to cut costs, the Social Security Administration instead began encouraging people to obtain their statements online. Now, a smaller pool of people — those 60 or older who aren’t yet receiving benefits and who haven’t set up digital mySocialSecurity accounts — automatically receive annual statements in the mail. (Paper statements are still available by special request.)

In the 2018 fiscal year, just 17 million of the 39 million people with mySocialSecurity accounts logged on to see their online statement, the Social Security Administration’s inspector general reported. And of the 180 million people paying into the Social Security system, about 140 million are not seeing their annual statements, according to House supporters of a return to mailings.

Some political leaders of both parties consider that a problem, given the weakening financial future of the Social Security program and skepticism among young voters about whether the program will be around when they retire. A bipartisan bill was introduced this summer in both the House and Senate to force the agency to resume annual mailings — specifically, to workers 25 and older who aren’t receiving benefits. (Workers would have the choice to opt out of paper statements.)

“As younger Americans grow more doubtful about their chances for a secure retirement, this bill will provide them a clear view of what their earned benefits will be,” Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement. Mr. Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a sponsor of the bill.

The Social Security Administration said it does not comment on pending legislation.

The legislation is supported by AARP, the advocacy group for people over age 50, and other interest groups. “It’s a way of informing people about their benefits,” said David Certner, legislative counsel and policy director with AARP, which wrote a letter of endorsement for the bill.

Receiving a hard copy of a statement can prompt a review for errors, Mr. Certner said.

Benefits are based on your earnings. So if numbers are wrong, your monthly retirement check could be affected. Checking the statement annually makes it more likely that you’ll have recent supporting documents handy for a comparison.

“It’s almost impossible, if you’re 65, to correct something that happened 30 years ago,” Mr. Certner said.

The outlook for the legislation is uncertain. A similar measure that was introduced last year failed to advance, and Congress is currently preoccupied with major legislation like President Biden’s infrastructure spending bill.

Here are some questions and answers about Social Security statements:

Why should I check my statement?

A discrepancy in your earnings not only can affect your future benefits, but it can also raise a flag about possible identity theft. If earnings are much higher than your records show, it could indicate that someone has been working illegally using your Social Security number.

Statements also help you plan for retirement. You can see how much you can expect to receive in monthly benefits, and how much more you would get by waiting until your “full” retirement age, rather than collecting benefits at age 62. For most people born in 1960 or later, their full retirement age is 67. And if you delay taking your benefits until age 70, your monthly payments will be even higher.

How can I check my statement online?

If you are 18 or older, you can create an online mySocialSecurity account. When you log on, you can review your statement online or print it out. You can also request an annual email reminder to log on and review your records.

What if I find an error on my statement?

Earnings may be “missing” for several reasons, according to SocialSecurity.gov. Your employer may have reported your earnings using the wrong Social Security number, or you may have married or divorced and changed your name but forgotten to report it to the agency.

The first thing to do is to collect proof of the missing earnings, such as a W-2 wage statement, a pay stub or a tax return. If you don’t have any documents, you can write down the name of your employer, the dates you worked, how much you earned, and the name and Social Security number you used. Then contact Social Security to correct the error. The process “could take some time” and involve contacting former employers, the agency says.

Cindy Hounsell, president of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, urged people to at least save their W-2 forms, in case they need them to correct their earnings record. If a former employer goes out of business, it may be difficult or impossible to obtain them later.

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