THINKING RETIREMENT – ANDY LANDIS– Too many of us are in the dark on the cornerstone of our retirement security, Social Security. Ignorance or misinformation can cause costly retirement mistakes. Social Security has upgraded its online tools to shed light on the dark mysteries of Social Security. The tools are worth a look whether you’re still working, ready to retire, or already getting Social Security.
For future retirees:
- This is a must: sign up for a personal “My Social Security” account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount/. Then you can review your SSA earnings record for accuracy and view estimates of your future Social Security payments, anytime. Estimates cover retirement, disability, and survivor benefits. You can also view the amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid over the years. Most workers no longer receive a Social Security statement in the mail, so My Social Security is your information conduit.
- Explore SSA’s online calculators for more-detailed benefit estimates. The simplest one is at www.ssa.gov/estimator/. Or, if you’re a true numbers connoisseur, check out the variety of calculators at www.ssa.gov/OACT/anypia/index.html. With the online calculators you can try out various future scenarios like early or partial retirement. That’s a big advantage over the My Social Security statement that assumes a fixed, “work until this age” format. There are even specialized calculators if you’re eligible for a pension from non-FICA-taxed work at www.ssa.gov/retire2/anyPiaWepjs04.htm.
- Get a guided tour of retirement planning at SSA’s Retirement Planner at www.ssa.gov/retire2/. It offers a menu of articles and links on a variety of topics.
- Learn more about any Social Security topic at www.ssa.gov/pubs/. There you’ll find SSA publications covering everything from cradle (Social Security numbers) to grave (survivor benefits) and everything in between (like earning Social Security credits).
For those retiring now or soon:
- You can apply online for Social Security retirement benefits by going to www.ssa.gov and clicking on the “Retirement” tab.
- Others can also apply online for spouse or disability payments.
- You can apply online for Medicare, or for extra help paying for your Medicare prescription drug costs. Go to www.ssa.gov and click on the “Medicare” tab.
- At www.medicare.gov, you can explore Medicare supplement insurance, Medicare Part C Advantage plans, and Medicare Part D drug plans. You can even enroll online for Part C or Part D insurance.
If you’re already getting Social Security, you too should sign up for a personal account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount/. New capabilities allow you to:
- Print out proof of Social Security or Medicare benefits. These can be used as proof of income for loans, mortgages, or other government benefits, and to prove health insurance enrollment. This will save time compared to waiting on the phone or in an SSA office, and reduce SSA’s 9 million manual verifications per year.
- Check your personal information and payment history.
- Change your address.
- Start or change your direct deposit data.
- Even without a My Social Security account, you can request a replacement Medicare card.
The bottom line
You don’t need to be in the dark any more. Brighten your Social Security smarts with SSA’s online tools. Links to these services and more can be found at www.ssa.gov/onlineservices/