Social Security Returns to Snail Mail for Some Statements

Row of Social Security cards. Selective focus.
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Millions of Americans rely on Social Security for income in retirement or when suffering a disability. But figuring out how much in benefits can be challenging.

That's what makes the Social Security statement -- a rundown of your estimated benefits and what factors into those benefits -- so valuable. The Social Security Administration wants to ensure that those records reach Americans. So it's going back to sending out statements by mail. Sort of.

Snail Mail's Back in Vogue

Social Security statements used to be mailed every year, but three years ago, the agency stopped that and made them available on its website. Yet with only 6 percent of American workers signed up for online access at the My Social Security, lawmakers recommended that it find ways to make sure that people got the information they needed. So those who aren't signed up for online access will get statements mailed to them every five years from ages 25 to 60. The statement includes a general description of benefits and how the agency estimates the benefits you're entitled to receive.

The two most important sections apply specifically to you. One tells how much in benefits you and your family would be eligible to receive from Social Security under certain conditions. The other includes the information the agency has about your lifetime earnings. Your statement therefore helps you plan for your retirement and lets you verify that the agency has the correct figures to calculate your benefits.

The agency looks at how much in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes you've paid to measure your eligible earnings, and so your earnings history may not include income that wasn't subject to these taxes. If you see mistakes, you should contact the agency right away to get your records corrected. If you don't, you may not get as much money in benefits as you should.

If you have a high income, your earnings for Social Security purposes might differ from your Medicare earnings. That's because Social Security imposes a wage cap. For 2013, any amount over $113,700 was not subject to Social Security taxes, and this year, that amount rose to $117,000. Medicare has no such limits, with taxes applying to your entire earnings.

A Look at Your Estimated Benefits

The agency assumes that you'll keep earning whatever you made in the most recent year, and then tells you how much you'll get in retirement benefits at various ages and disability benefits if you need them. In addition, it also tells you how much your spouse and children might be eligible to receive after your death.

These estimates can tell you the impact of retiring early, at your full retirement age, or later, helping you get a handle on your expected income. Also, they can verify whether you're eligible yet even to receive benefits at all. For example, to get retirement benefits on your work record, you need to have earned a minimum amount during 40 quarters, essentially requiring a 10-year work history at some point during your career. Disability benefits require fewer credits, though they must have been earned more recently. Seeing how much your family would receive if something happens to you is also helpful for insurance and estate planning.

So whether you wait to get your statement in the mail or sign up online now, be sure to look at it. By reading your statement, you can track progress toward a financially secure retirement.

You can follow Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger on Twitter @DanCaplinger or on Google Plus.​

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Use a Stamp, Save an American JOB...

Think about what goes into making a stamp, and the envelope. Then count up the U.S.A. companies involved, it numbers into the hundreds.

April 28 2014 at 7:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

d.barack, Rush Limppig's favorite low information voter. What a dunce.

April 28 2014 at 3:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

SomeyMacEvanDunce thinks the people at Wal*Mart, Home Depot, Lowe's, and the gas stations are rich, and everyone else is poor.

April 28 2014 at 11:35 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

The comment "The poor aren't poor,because the rich are rich and YOU can't make ONE single point that proves otherwise !!!" can easily be answered, just drive to your nearest Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, or gasoline Station...

April 28 2014 at 1:10 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mac2jr's comment

So, the employees are all rich that work in those retail stores, and gas stations ?

April 28 2014 at 11:29 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I couldn't help but notice all the nice SUV's and Pickups all decked out. Those people must be rich !

April 28 2014 at 11:41 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

d.barack, a coward who loves to floss his two front teeth with his EBT card. Keep it up dunce and the gap between your teeth will only get wider.

April 27 2014 at 8:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to teapartyisdying.uall's comment

Evan Barthold, from Underwood, loves his gubmint freebies.

April 27 2014 at 7:23 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply


April 27 2014 at 6:43 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Check the DOL statistics for the year after 9/11 and then for each year since, there has been a systematic move by Big Business, Corporate America, to devoid itself of anyone over the age of 55 to 60, and in that first year nearly 50% of those age 60 and above were dismissed from their careers and jobs. This put hundreds of thousands of Seniors off the workforce without any other money than investments and savings, which got sucked up by life's expenditures and COBRA, until these people hit age 62 and HAD to take Social Security at a 25% discount. This was on purpose and a plan of the Bush Administration the meanest and most screw up and nasty administration in the history of this nation.

Every day we hear about another Bush Administration action that is causing the poor, middle-class, and Seniors to lose out to the Corporate Billionaires, which is a continuation of the second worse administration, that of Ronald Reagan...

April 27 2014 at 6:33 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to mac2jr's comment

Quote from here "Those that considered SS as a "guaranteed" retirement plan, were just plain wrong and have no one else to blame but themselves !"

Sickness, divorce, court actions, going to war, company closings and no jobs left, technology changes and no jobs left, accidents, being shot by some gun nut case, fire, theft, flood and other damage that the insurance company was suspose to cover, but did not, COBRA cost, parents sickness or death, Wall Street crooks, investment brokers, neighborhood changes, and much more can wipe out a person's savings in seconds, and you are only 'one-second' from disaster and living under a bridge, and NONE of these causes are the direct cause of a person depending on Social Security as his or her "guaranteed" retirement plan.

Wake up America, WAKE UP!!!

April 27 2014 at 6:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mac2jr's comment

AMERICA IS AWAKE.but the golden parachute club could care less.

April 27 2014 at 7:13 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

People like yourself that glorify politicians are the real problem. Buy a clue Evan, politicians don't care about your welfare recipient hide.

April 27 2014 at 7:17 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to d.barack's comment

over 70 had to go back to work to pay my bills and insurance last year we paid in over 3500.00 in to ss that's about one third.of what I get . so my employer also paid in the same amount. asked my tax people do I get any of this back she said no I am working to pay myself. is this what you call a fair deal I do not think so

April 27 2014 at 5:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply