The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced a couple of changes designed to reduce its costs and increase the use of the online tools and information available at the SSA’s web site (www.ssa.gov). Both of the changes noted below are expected to help the SSA save more than $190 million each year. The changes include the following:
• Suspension of the annual Social Security Benefits statements: Each year, the SSA sends out a Social Security Statement to each person, which includes their earnings history and an estimate of the retirement, disability and survivors benefits that they and their family are expected to receive (based on the earnings in the statement). Statements are sent out about three months before a person’s birthday each year.
As of last month, the SSA suspended those mailings to everyone for the remainder of this year. The SSA expects to resume the mailings in 2012 to those who are 60 or older. For those who are younger than 60, you can still request a copy of your benefits statement but they will not be automatically sent out each year. In addition, the SSA is working on options for people to download or access their benefit statements online. In the meantime, you can still use the SSA’s Benefit’s Estimator (http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10510.html) to help you estimate your social security retirement benefits.
The information from these statements - regardless of how to receive it - can be valuable in your financial planning or retirement planning process for a couple of reasons. First, it will provide you with an estimate of the retirement, disability, and survivor benefits that you are likely to receive. Secondly, it provides you with the earnings history that the SSA uses to calculate your benefits. It’s important to check (and correct, if necessary) your earnings history to ensure that you receive the benefits you are entitled to.
• Switching from paper checks to electronic payments: Those who are applying for Social Security benefits on or after May 1, 2011 will receive their benefits checks electronically (through Direct Deposit or Direct Express). Those who are receiving benefits prior to May 1, 2011 can continue to receive paper checks but will need to switch to one of the electronic methods noted above by March 1, 2013. For more information about the SSA’s electronic payment methods visit www.GoDirect.org.
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