Social Security statements are now available online. After suspending the mailing of annual statements to save money, the Social Security Administration has worked out the security details necessary to make the statements accessible online (The system taps into Equifax, the credit reporting agency, which maintains obscure information like where you lived 15 years ago and which company you were making car payments to in 1999 for examples). To pass security, you will need to answer a few of these random questions).
You will not get statements through the mail (although there is talk of doing that for those over 60 not yet on benefits; still you can always get them online regardless of age).
To access your statement, just go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement/ (or go to Social Security’s Home Page and type Statement Online in the search box) and open your account by answering a series of questions designed to confirm your identity (discussed above). After your account has been established, write down your username and password so you will be able to access your statement in the future.
Once your account is set up, click on “Print/Save Your Full Statement.” You will see the familiar format which shows your benefit estimates and your earnings record. First check your earnings record to make sure it is accurate. If not, call the number shown on your statement or the website. Then read over the rest of the statement to learn more about Social Security and Medicare.
Knowing your benefit estimates is just the first step towards understanding Social Security. The next step is to develop a strategy that maximizes your benefits.* Finally, how those benefits fit into your overall retirement income plan in the last step. This is all part of my retirement assessment (then click Retirement Assessment link) for those not yet receiving Social Security (obviously, those that are receiving benefits can’t do much about them … but there are some strategies still remaining if you feel like you made a mistake by starting benefits too soon).
*Social Security personnel are not allowed to give advice as to how to maximize benefits, they can only tell you when you may start and what the benefit may be. However, I have seen many people make mistakes when beginning their benefits because they did not fully understand what strategy they may have taken to maximize their benefits even more. This is especially critical when it comes to the survivor ramifications of benefit choices!! This part of Social Security planning is OFTEN forgotten.
Delaying Social Security benefits, beginning one spouses benefits before the other, divorce-benefits, widow(er) benefits, survivor benefits, children benefits, should all be evaluated when applicable, to see when and how the benefit may be maximized.
Designing a “bridge” using your retirement accounts until delayed Social Security benefits kicks in is one smart approach that maximizes both retirement and survivor benefits. A bridge also is smart for single people since this would maximize the benefit which means a higher benefit for as long as you live, regardless of what happens to your other retirement funds. For those already on benefits, evaluating what resources should be held in reserve for the survivor is also a smart strategy since part of Social Security goes away when one spouse does.