Have You Checked Your Social Security Statement for Errors?
by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show
I have heard that Social Security sometimes makes mistakes on our earnings records, which can reduce our monthly retirement benefits. How can I make sure this doesn't happen to me? Mistakes in the Social Security earnings record are not uncommon. Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on your average earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. So, if your earnings for any particular year are underreported, it can reduce your benefits. Errors typically occur because employers either report earnings incorrectly or report earnings using the wrong name or Social Security number. Errors might also occur if you got married or divorced and changed your name but did not report the change to Social Security.
Check Your Statement
The best way to keep an eye on your benefits and avoid any possible mistakes is to carefully review your Social Security statement every year. To do this, go to SSA.gov/myaccount to view your statement. If you are age 60 or older, are not yet receiving benefits and do not have a My Social Security account online, your statement will be mailed to you about three months before your birthday. Your Social Security statement lists your earnings record for each year of employment and estimates the benefits you and your family may receive as a result of those earnings. Once you receive your statement, take some time to verify its accuracy by comparing the earnings listed on your statement with your own tax records or W-2 statements. You must correct errors within three years, three months and 15 days following the year of the mistake. If you happen to spot a discrepancy within the permitted time limit, first, call your nearest Social Security office (see SSA.gov/locator or call 800-772-1213) to report the error. Some corrections can be made over the phone. You may need to schedule an appointment and go in with copies of your W-2 forms or tax returns to prove the mistake or mail in the requested documents. If you suspect a discrepancy, but do not have backup records, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may be able to use your employment information to search its records and correct mistakes. If the SSA cannot locate your records, you will need to contact the employer to obtain a copy of your W-2 for the year in question. Once your earnings record is corrected, Social Security will send you a confirmation letter. If you do not receive the confirmation within three months, contact them again and double-check the correction by making sure it appears on your Social Security statement. If corrections are not made on your statement, you can choose to appeal (see SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10041.pdf).
Social Security earnings miscalculations can also happen if there is a mistake in the current mailing address that the IRS has on file for you. Check your federal tax returns for this possible error, especially if you have moved recently. To correct your address, contact the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you the "Change of Address" form 8822. Alternatively, you can print a copy of the form (IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8822.pdf), fill it out and mail it to the address on the form. If your name or date of birth in the SSA's records is not the same as it appears in the IRS files then this could lead to mistakes. Double-check your Social Security statement for these possible mishaps. If you find an error call 800-772-1213 and ask for Form SS-5, "Application for a Social Security Card," to submit with the correct information. The form can also be downloaded at SSA.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf.