Planning for retirement just got easier, now that you can get an estimate of your future Social Security retirement benefit online.
The Social Security Administration had been mailing out statements that project how much your benefit would be if you retired early at age 62, waited until the full retirement age 66 (or 67 if you were born in 1960 or later), or held out until age 70 to collect. Last year, however, the SSA stopped mailing statements to save some $70 million a year.
The agency this year has resumed mailing those paper statements to people when they turn 60 but not to younger workers. However, workers of all ages can go online and create a secure account to see their information.
The online Social Security statements include a history of your taxable earnings for each year and the total amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes you've paid in so far. In addition to helping with financial planning, the online statements also allow you to make sure your lifetime earnings are recorded accurately.
So workers can use that Social Security estimate, along with 401(k) account balances, pensions and other assets, to figure out how much income they'll likely get in retirement. Social Security, pensions and 401(k) plans make up the three-legged stool that's considered the foundation to a secure retirement.
"Our new online Social Security statement is simple, easy-to-use and provides people with estimates they can use to plan for their retirement," Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said in a statement. "The online statement also provides estimates for disability and survivors benefits, making the statement an important financial planning tool. People should get in the habit of checking their online statement each year, around their birthday, for example."
The online statements are part of a larger government effort to phase out paper checks for all benefit programs, including Social Security.
As of last year, new beneficiaries could only get them by electronic means, primarily direct deposit. Virtually all beneficiaries, no matter when they began receiving checks, will have to make the switch to electronic payments by next March.
The SSA began mailing statements in 1999 to workers age 25 and older.