Whether you are close to retiring or just turned 50, you should check your Social Security earnings record each year to make sure it doesn’t contain errors. That’s because even one error, if not corrected, can have a real impact on your retirement benefits, experts say.
Your record is the list of the income you’ve earned during each year of your life. The amount of your Social Security retirement benefit is based on the 35 years you earned the most. If, for example, you worked just 35 years and for one of those years your income was mistakenly listed as a zero, that error would be included in the benefits calculation, resulting in a smaller benefits check.
A mistake like that could cause your future benefit payments to be close to $100 per month less than they should be, according to a statement from Jim Borland, acting deputy commissioner for communications at the Social Security Administration (SSA), who noted such errors are not common. But they do add up: According to one report from the SSA inspector general, $1.2 trillion accumulated from 1937 to 2012 in money from payroll taxes that wasn’t credited to people’s earning records due to various errors in reporting wages.
“It is never too early to check” your earnings record, according to attorney Doug K.W. Landau, 58, of Abrams Landau Ltd., in Herndon, Va., who specializes in correcting earnings records. In fact, Landau had to fix his own record. “If you have been working, check your benefits statement and keep a file of your Social Security statements. Employers make mistakes or sometimes wrongfully fail to turn in payments and taxes.”
If you have created a My Social Security account online, you can check your earnings record any time. If you don’t yet have an account, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount to create one.
It’s also important to be aware that there is a statute of limitations on correcting your record, though there are exceptions. An earnings record can be corrected up to three years, three months and 15 days after the year in which the wages were paid or the self-employment income was earned from goods sold, services rendered or work performed. Among the reasons that your earnings record can be revised after the time limit are to correct an entry listed by fraud, a mechanical or clerical error, and a range of other specific situations you can check here.
Something as simple as a transposed Social Security number (SSN) or a missing or incorrect digit in a Social Security number can mean your earnings will not be recorded correctly or could be assigned to another U.S. citizen’s account. “We cannot post earnings on someone’s record unless the name and SSN matches,” according to a spokesperson for SSA. “If the SSN and name do not match, those wages go to the suspense file until we are able to match them with the right person.”
“Make sure that that earnings record is credited properly at the end of every year,” said Devin Carroll of Carroll Investment Management in Texarkana, Texas, who has written about how to check your earnings record.
Rather than find out when you are close to claiming your benefits that your earnings record has errors, monitor your record at least once a year. If you notice an error, report it to the SSA as soon as possible using the “Request for Correction of Earnings Record” form. According to SSA.gov, primary evidence to prove wages includes:
- Pay slips (original or issued by the employer) that show your name or SSN, gross wages and the period covered by the earnings
- Wage verification from an SSA-approved wage verification company
- Oral statement from an employer
- Written statement from an employer
Other forms of proof of earnings include a W-2 form (wage and tax statement), a tax return, your own wage records or other documents that show you worked, according to SSA.gov. If you are unable to find written documents that show earnings, write down where and when you worked, the name of the employer, how much you earned, and the name and SSN you were using at the time.
If you are unsure how to correct earnings report errors and do not have access to SSA.gov, telephone the agency at 800-772-1213.