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.‚Äč

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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

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

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

Why do we hear that because the government used SS as it's personal piggy bank that it might go broke with people paying into it, the government has no limit to welfare, food stamps, and other free stuff to pass out to those that prefer NOT having to work? Increase SS, and decrease handouts, and watch how fast the leeches find work!

April 27 2014 at 3:08 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Juan Doez

Gobment gets what the gobment wants.

April 27 2014 at 1:17 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

This is a bunch of mumbo jumbo bull crap...When you have a Federal Gov. that is consistently printing or aka mortaging our dollars into oblivion with the liberal cliche called " inflation" which is just another way of saying ..we can't extort everyone, especially the illegals that don't need any verification to vote along the lines of shake down..but " we know sooner or later we will have them ALL in our "" Hip Pockets"., then you can figure out in the short term ( vise versa is insignificant at this point)... that this is corruption against the middle class in it finist form... !!! let them thar fools pick up the tap!!!!

April 27 2014 at 12:07 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

"Millions of Americans rely on Social Security for income in retirement or when suffering a disability" Alcoholism, drug dependancy, obesity, bi-polar, and PTSD all qualify as a disability for the SSA. I lost my leg in an accident in 2000 and was on disability for 7 years until I could no longer live on the $740 a month I was getting. I couldnt get food stamps because i was on disability so I took a job at walmart working 2 days a week so I didnt have to go to soup kitchens anymore. I was cut off of disability because the $500 gross a month I was making was in their eyes "more than sufficient" to support myself. I had to move up to full time in order to live which meant taking pain killers every day just to get through my shifts. Eventually i lost my job because I could no longer walk and started missing too many days. I had lost my health insurance when disability cut me off and was in desperate need of a new prosthetic. Now 3 1/2 years later im still not able to work and I am not considered disabled by the SSA. I cant get a lawyer because I havent been to a doctor in 3 1/2 years because i have no money and without a recent medical history and no money no lawyer. Im in a catch 22 with no light at the end of the tunnel and in the meantime I have gained weight because of lack of mobility, my good knee is about to go out and causing pain every day, back problems and general health is declining. The SSA and current adminastration dont care about the nations health, just how much money the politicians can stuff in their pockets before they are voted out of office.

April 26 2014 at 10:55 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to wehaulsmall's comment

Get seen by a doctor for free. They are out there. Find them. Ask at church, ask at low income clinics, ask the friend who's brother's cousin is a doctor. Keep asking and looking, you can get it done. Offer to barter or trade. Get a friend to do you a favor by trading their services to the doctor in exchange for your exams. Work all of the angles and find a way. If you can't connect directly to a doctor but know a nurse or a pharmacist then start from there. Ask.

April 27 2014 at 1:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Your situation sounds horrible....but you may be like a lot of people...that is to say a whiner. You don't have to be in such shape but it WILL require a little effort on your part. Willingness to exert some effort is a strange concept to people. Many want everything handed to them on a silver platter. Help is available. You just need to look for it!

April 27 2014 at 2:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes wake up- If you pay union dues driving a truck for 10 years, you will receive more in retirement than working all your life from Social Security.

April 26 2014 at 9:33 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to johnny's comment

Sorry Johnny, NOT TRUE. I had 20 YEARS in the Teamsters and was entitled to two seperate pensions. I am now collecting one at 264 a month. The other wiiiiil be a lump sum of about 38,000. So please try ans get your FACTS right before giving advice.

April 26 2014 at 10:32 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tom's comment

Unions largely make the guys at the top rich. While unions were desperately needed back before there were any federal labor laws to protect workers today they do help with basic things like higher wages but you have to be a saver because your retirement will be smaller.

April 27 2014 at 2:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

Hey johnny...just the facts eh? Sure your not talking about CEO's and their millions...oh yes its always the unions fault who wants a fair wage and benefits...maybe your more like Governor Bill Haslam ...maybe your one of them like Wall Street or Sam Walton...keep supporting them johnny as the outsource the jobs overseas for cheap labor...maybe hike unleaded fuel to 6 dollars a gallon and increase tax breaks for oil companies!

April 26 2014 at 10:37 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I just read in the newspaper that some federal employees are either in arrears
in paying their taxes or not paying any taxes at all. Now they got bonuses last
year and some even got promotions into a higher category or payrayses. That
was done for IRS people. Just what goes on in these agencies and who is
looking? They can find the little guy who forgot to mention a small amount on
his 1099 form.

April 26 2014 at 9:20 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to werner421's comment

A federal employee evading payment of income tax payments is a CONDUCT issue. A federal employee getting a bonus is a PERFORMANCE issue. This is per agreement with federal employee unions. So for example if you are charged for DUI, that is a conduct issue but unless you come to work drunk and not capable of performing your job, your conduct becomes a performance issue. One exception is if you are an employee of the IRS; then you are subjected to a higher ethical standard. Should you avoid to pay ANY tax (local, state, federal) of ANY kind, you will be fired immediately.

April 26 2014 at 10:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the damn social security is not a damn entitlement , contrary to what the
the liberal democrats want you to think . you have to pay to receive benefits

April 26 2014 at 9:01 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
5 replies to hmenglish1's comment