My Social SecurityMy Social Security: Making the Most of the SSA’s Online Tools

Sorting out your benefits information can be time-consuming, especially if you’re hunting through stacks of paper. The Social Security Administration has made things easier for retirees and working adults with My Social Security, a tool that lets users see their benefits, make retirement plans based on benefit estimates, and take care of some Social Security and Medicare tasks online. Here’s a quick rundown of the services available online and tips on signing up.

Tools for current Social Security recipients and Medicare members

If you currently get Social Security and/or Medicare benefits, you can get a benefit verification letter, replacement tax documents, and replacement Medicare cards. You can also make address and phone number changes, check over and verify your earnings history and benefits amounts, and set up or change direct deposit service for payment of benefits.

Tools for adults who are still in the workforce

If you’re not ready to retire yet, it’s still worthwhile to set up a My Social Security account for planning purposes. Your account will show your estimated monthly benefits at different retirement ages. (For instance, I found that my benefit will increase by nearly 1/3 if I retire at 67 rather than retiring early.) This level of detail can help you with post-retirement budget plans.

The estimates are based on your yearly earnings history, which you can review. It’s a good idea to look at everything and contact the Social Security Administration if you find any errors, because inaccurate earnings figures could yield the wrong benefit amounts. The best time to sort out any inaccuracies is before you need to draw your benefits.

You will also see estimates of disability and survivors benefits and information about whether you’ve worked enough to qualify for Medicare when you turn 65.

Setting up your account

Internet-savvy adults will breeze through the My Social Security signup, which takes less than 5 minutes. If you’re not super comfortable with technology, the site has a video and a detailed document explaining all the steps involved, but the process is straightforward. (You can also apply via phone or in-person).

To begin, you’ll need your Social Security number, a valid email address, and a US mailing address. The rules state that you must set up your own My Social Security account, and if you have a security freeze or fraud alert on your credit history, you won’t be able to sign up online due to identity-theft concerns. If that’s the case for you, you can create an account at your local Social Security office or online after you have the alert or freeze canceled.

Once you’ve got your information and know you’re eligible to create an account, visit the site and sign in. Choose “create an account” and read over and agree to the site’s terms of service. Enter your name and contact information.

In the next step, you’ll make a choice about whether to add an extra layer of account security. If you choose to forego extra security, you’ll still need your username and password to log in. If you choose to add it, you’ll get a code on your cell phone via text message each time you log in to your account. You’ll have to enter that code along with your username and password to see your information. The code will be different every time you log in. This is called 2-factor authentication and it’s considered more secure than password-only logins.

If you don’t have a cellphone or don’t want to receive these messages and take the extra log-in step of entering a code, select no. If you select yes, you’ll verify your identity with tax or credit card information. Once you have extra security set up, you’ll need to have your cell phone with you when you want to log in.

After you move through the extra security section, you’ll answer some questions that only you would know the answer to for identity verification, and then create your username, password, and password reset questions. Finish by entering the email you want to associate with the account, and you should get a message that you’re ready to go. Now you can log in, check your benefits, get replacement cards, and spend less time sorting papers to get the information you need.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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