For many of us, Social Security will be a significant part of our income during retirement.
In fact, the Social Security Administration (SSA) says Social Security benefits are about 30% of income for the elderly. The average monthly Social Security check as of January 2022 is $1,658.
But did you know there’s an important step you need to take before you turn 62? Money expert Clark Howard has one secret to share that will help protect your financial future:
“There’s a simple thing nobody uses: mySocialSecurity.gov. You go through a registration process and you’re able to see what Social Security says you earned in various years.”
6 Things To Consider About Your “my Social Security” Account
Here’s what you need to know before you set up an account.
1. It’s Your “Online Gateway” to Social Security
“my Social Security” is an online portal that helps monitor your benefits, request a new Social Security card and much more.
Whether you’re currently receiving benefits or not, setting up this account can help you plan for your future.
Account Features: Not Receiving Benefits Yet
- Estimate monthly benefits.
- Review earnings history.
- Get proof that you don’t receive benefits.
- Replace a Social Security card.
Account Features: Receiving Benefits
- Set up or change direct deposit.
- Get a Social Security 1099 form.
- Print a benefit verification letter.
- Replace a Social Security card.
2. The Account Is Easy and Free To Set Up
I recently signed up for a “my Social Security” account and documented the process. It was much easier and quicker than I expected. It took me less than 10 minutes!
To start, I visited the website and clicked “Create a new account” on the page. On the next screen, I selected the option under “Create your new account using Login.gov.”
From there I was sent to a page to log in to an account or create a new account. After I hit “Create a new account,” I entered my email address so I could verify it in my inbox.
After I verified my email, I ran into the most difficult part of the process which is choosing a security option. The SSA gives you the following ways to secure your account:
- Security key
- Government employee ID
- Authentication application
- Backup codes
I chose the authentication application because I already have the Google Authenticator app on my smartphone. I opened the app on my phone and scanned the QR code to get the key I needed to secure my account.
The next step is filling out your information which includes:
- Social Security Number
- Phone number
I was also asked if I wanted to add extra security by sharing my driver’s license information.
Then you get an activation code by text or phone which you type on the screen. And that’s it!
3. The Statement Looks Both Backward and Forward
The account gives insights into both your current situation and future earnings potential.
You have access to your full earnings record, which shows your taxed Social Security earnings over your working life.
You can also see what you may actually collect from Social Security. You can use the calculator to show your estimated benefits based on the age you start collecting, your average future salary and your marital status.
4. You Need To Set Up an Account Before Retirement Age
“Most people won’t pay attention to this until age 50,” Clark says. “But I want you to have an account by age 30.”
Why so early? Social Security benefits are based on your highest-earning 35 years, and you need to make sure the SSA is recording your earnings correctly.
“The crazy thing is that you can see how much Social Security thinks you earned in a year,” Clark says. “That’s important because if they have the wrong figures, it could end up reducing the Social Security benefit you get forever.”
Consumer Action Center Director Lori Silverman says there’s one more big reason to get your account ready before you retire:
“Setting up an online account will prevent criminals from creating an account in your name and then using it to apply for benefits.”
5. It’s Important To Check Your Account Regularly
“You don’t have to check it every year,” Clark suggests. “Check it at least every third year. It’s up to you and me to actively go and check. Don’t wait. Do this throughout your working life.”
After you create an account, mark your calendar to remember to check your account every few years. Make sure you report any mistakes to the SSA as soon as possible. It will impact your benefit!
To report a mistake, log into your account and go to the earnings report. There’s a blue box with a link to contact the SSA to report any mistakes.
6. You Probably Won’t Get a Paper Statement in the Mail
The SSA no longer mails Social Security statements to anyone under the age of 60. If you are 60 or older, the SSA will start mailing paper statements three months before your birthday — if you haven’t signed up for a “my Social Security” account.
If you need a paper statement, learn more here.
No matter your age, Clark says Social Security will still be around when you retire:
“I’m not worried that Social Security will go away. I’m worried that the amount of money people will receive will be reduced because the system isn’t actuarily sound. But Social Security will continue, no doubt.”
It’s important to take action now so you protect the money you’ll receive when you start to collect Social Security.
Questions about Social Security benefits or retirement? Call Clark’s free Consumer Action Center.