Seniors may have noticed that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has redesigned the periodic statements it sends about your benefits. Perhaps one of the most helpful changes is that these statements now explain how much your monthly benefits will be depending on when you decide to take Social Security. In my experience, some seniors head into retirement with slightly unrealistic expectations about these benefits. These new statements will help folks get a better idea of where their benefits will fit in to their overall retirement plan.
The SSA's My Social Security website offers some additional information and interactive tools that you might find beneficial as well. Here's a quick intro to setting up an account and the services that are available.
1. Create your account.
To sign up for a My Social Security Account:
- You must be at least 18 years old.
- You must have a Social Security Number.
- You must have a valid U.S. mailing address.
- You must have an email address.
If you check all those boxes, head over to https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ and click Create Account. The rest of the process is pretty straightforward, but don't forget a couple cyber security best practices:
- Make sure you're on the SSA.gov website, not a scam site with a similar name.
- Don't try to open your account on a public wifi hotspot, like a hotel, library, or cafe. Hackers love to scan public wifi for sensitive data.
- When you're creating your login information, make sure you use a strong password, or better yet, a strong passphrase (a short group of words and numbers). Your middle name, your maiden name, your kids' names, the street you live on, and sequential numbers or letters are some of the first things hackers will try. This might be a good time to take some advice from former FBI Special Agent Jeff Lanza and get all your passwords stored in a password manager, such as LastPass or Bitwarden. These services can also generate and store secure passwords for you.
2. Explore the services.
If you're not receiving your Social Security benefits yet, here's what you can do on the My Social Security portal:
- Request a replacement Social Security Card.
- Request personalized benefit estimates for you and your spouse.
- Request proof that you're not receiving your benefits yet.
- Request your Social Security statement, which shows your earnings history and estimates of your future benefits.
- Check application status if you recently applied for Social Security benefits, applied Supplemental Security Income, or requested a hearing about your benefits.
If you are receiving Social Security, you can:
- Request a replacement Social Security Card.
- Set up or change direct deposit into your bank account.
- Report a change of home address.
- Download a Social Security 1099 (SSA-1099) form for tax prep.
- Choose to receive communication from the SSA via email and the online portal rather than paper mailers.
- Download your benefit verification letter, which serves as proof of your retirement, disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Medicare benefits.
3. Start thinking ahead.
Again, I think it's terrific that the SSA is making it easier for folks at every stage of their financial journey to access this info. Seeing benefit projections in black and white will help many seniors clarify their thinking about when to take Social Security, especially if they're thinking about early retirement. The My Social Security portal is also going to be very helpful for folks who need to verify their benefits for things like a mortgage application. And being able to quickly and easily make changes to your home address and banking information is another big plus.
But let's also think about how My Social Security fits in with the some big-picture changes to retirement. As we discussed when the SECURE ACT passed at the end of 2019, our government is encouraging folks of all ages to start taking more personal responsibility for their financial security. Baby boomers could be among the last generation of seniors who have corporate pensions and generous benefits packages waiting for them in retirement. And while I think doomsaying about Social Security going bankrupt is probably a bit overblown, Social Security alone isn't going to meet your financial needs two or three decades into a modern retirement.
So, now that you've created your My Social Security account and reviewed your benefit projections, what are you going to do with this important information?
My hope is that you'll bring those statements to a fiduciary advisor, like my team at Keen Wealth. The more specific info we have about your retirement, the greater our ability is to prepare for things we can’t necessarily anticipate and keep working towards your long-term goals.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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