As the Social Security Administration is making online statements available this month, many Americans are reluctant to enter personal information online, but this is a necessary step in financial planning, according to Allsup, a nationwide provider of Social Security disability representation and Medicare plan selection services.
“It’s essential people regularly access their Social Security statements and track their benefits as part of sound financial planning,” says Tricia Blazier, senior specialist for the Allsup Disability Life Planning Center.
This is especially true when it comes to Social Security disability benefits, which could be needed earlier than retirement. More than 153 million workers are covered by Social Security Disability Insurance, and 2 million workers annually have disabilities so severe that they apply for SSDI benefits.
To securely access this information, Allsup recommends that an individual does not use a public computer and access the site directly at socialsecurity.gov. A secure password should be created, and no one should respond to emails asking for personal information that appear to be from SSA.
“The SSA will never ask you to verify your Social Security number, banking information or other financial or personal information via email,” Blazier says. “These are scam emails and should be deleted immediately.”
Americans can also visit the local Social Security office in person to sign up for a Social Security account login, which uses Experian, an outside authentication provider, to confirm each person’s identity. Recipients are eligible to receive a unique entry code the SSA will send to their cellphones via texts each time they want to sign in, or they can request a printed statement from their local Social Security office.
For people age 60 and older who have not received benefits, the SSA will mail paper statements, and it will also provide one-time mailed statements to 25-year-olds.
No matter how Americans receive these statements, it’s important to review the Social Security statement yearly, Blazier says. When reviewing this information, three tips should be considered:
1. Check for accuracy of stated income amounts on the third page of the statement that lists “Your Earnings Record.” Mostly, disability and retirement benefits are based on how many years someone worked and the amount of Social Security taxes that were paid. While employers must send the SSA a copy of employees’ W-2 forms each year, it may not receive the information or could even enter it inaccuretly. A person can verify this by comparing the statement to his or her own W-2 copy, and the SSA should be notified if mistakes are present.
2. Understand SSDI requirements and eligibility, which is outlined on the second page of the statement under “Your Estimated Benefits.” This states whether the worker has earned enough credits to qualify for disability benefits as well as the estimated payment figure.
All workers can earn up to four credits each year, and most workers must receive 40 credits over the last 10 years to be qualify for SSDI benefits. For workers under age 31, they could be eligible for disability coverage with as few as six credits in a three-year span. If a worker were to become disabled, the monthly payment amount shows approximately how much that person could receive.
Still, a disability does not automatically qualify someone for benefits, and to be eligible, the worker must be under retirement age with a physical or mental injury that would inhibit him or her from doing substantial work for a year or more or result in death.
3. Understand exceptions that could cut SSDI benefits, such as the Windfall Elimination Provision, which is applied when a worker receives a pension from work but Social Security taxes were not subtracted from pay. Typically, this applies to former government workers whose pay were not subject to Social Security tax. WEP can now reduce a worker’s maximum monthly disability benefits by $383.50.