1 thing you should check before claiming Social Security | Smart Change: Personal Finance

(Adam Levy)

As you approach your retirement date, it’s time to start defining your plans more precisely. A large part of any retirement plan is Social Security. Although there may be discussion about the optimal time to apply and different claiming strategies to improve your money, there is one thing you should check, no matter when or how you claim.

You must make sure that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has correctly listed all of your past earnings.

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Check your earnings history

Previously, the Social Security Administration mailed statements to everyone each year. Now that Americans have increased access to the Internet, the SSA is falling behind in providing that information only online.

In order to get your earnings history, you will need to create an online social security account at ssa.gov/myaccount. All you need is an email address, social security number and your mailing address.

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Once logged in, you will see an option to download your Social Security statement. You can also scroll down and find a link to your full earnings history, where you can see more details about your salary, such as who your employer is.

Take a look at the report to see if all the numbers look correct. The big flag might be the year reported Social Security wages were $0. But some errors may not be obvious.

It’s important to note that your Social Security wages and your actual wages may not match up exactly. This may be because some wages are excluded from Social Security, such as health insurance premiums or a health savings account (HSA) contributions. It may also be that you earned higher than Social Security pay limitthat changes every year.

If everything looks fine, thank your lucky stars, and go ahead and claim Social Security when you’re ready. If you spot an error, you’ll need to correct it ASAP.

How to correct the error

To correct an error in your earnings history, you will need to gather evidence. This can come in the form of a tax return, W-2, or even an old payroll stub. Be sure to deduct any wages that will not qualify for Social Security when checking your proof against what the Social Security Administration has reported.

Once you find evidence of an error in your earnings report, you will need to submit a correction request through ssa.gov website or call the SSA and make an appointment at your local office. Most corrections can be made online, but you will need to contact the SSA if you object to self-employment wages and in certain other cases.

Once you submit all of your documents to the SSA, you just have to wait for your case to be processed and for them to update your earnings history. This may take months.

There is technically a time limit

It is important to note that there is a technical limit to how far you can go back to make a correction in your earnings history. According to the SSA, “Earnings history may be corrected at any time up to three years, three months, and 15 days after the year in which wages were paid or self-employment income was derived.”

But there are some notable exceptions to this rule. You can go back more than three years for the many reasons detailed in ssa.gov website. The biggest reason you might do it Not You are able to go back beyond three years if you are self-employed and fail to file your taxes by the deadline.

It is a good idea to review your earnings report regularly. Not only will you definitely be within the time limit, but you will also likely have archives of your tax returns or W-2s readily available. But even if you’re on the cusp of retirement, it’s never too late to make sure everything looks right before you apply for benefits.

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