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.