En español | Whether you're already receiving benefits or are years away from retirement, it's important to keep an eye on your account with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to ensure you will collect what you have earned. But with local offices largely closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and lengthy wait times on the phone help line, tracking and managing your benefits can be difficult if you haven't set up an online My Social Security account.
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Taking a few minutes to create this account will give you more control of your benefits while saving you time. Now that the SSA has mostly stopped sending out paper benefit statements, an online account is the primary way people can keep track of their retirement benefits. As of July 2021, nearly 60 million people have My Social Security accounts, according to SSA data. You can use your account to:
- Get estimates of how much your monthly benefit would be if you claim it early, at full retirement age or at age 70.
- Set up direct deposit of your benefit payments.
- Request a replacement Medicare or Social Security card.
- Change your address or phone number on file with the SSA.
- Verify your earnings over your career.
- Request a benefit verification letter, which you can use as proof of income when applying for a loan or mortgage or for government assistance, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or housing vouchers.
- Request a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S, the forms the agency mails to you every January for tax purposes that summarize your benefits for the previous year.
- Check the status of a pending claim or an appeal of a disability benefits decision.
It's important to note that while you cannot use a My Social Security account directly to apply for benefits, there is a link to start receiving retirement benefits on the SSA website.
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How to get started
To set up a My Social Security account, you must be at least 18 and have a Social Security number, a valid email address and a U.S. mailing address. You’ll also need some form of identification or financial information, like a driver’s license or tax return, to verify your identity during the sign-up process. Make sure that you have all of this information handy.
Here’s how to set up your account.
Go to the My Social Security sign-up page. Click on Create an Account (that’s the long blue button on the left of the screen). You’ll be asked to read and agree to terms of service for the account.
Enter identifying information, including your name, birth date, Social Security number and address. You’ll also be asked to provide a cellphone number or email address; the SSA will use it later for verification.
Choose a method for Social Security to confirm your identity. There are three options:
- Photo verification. Click the blue Request Text Message button. You should get a text with a link. Click it and follow the instructions to take pictures of both sides of your driver’s license, or another state-issued ID card, with your smartphone.
- Data entry. You’ll be asked to type in information from your driver’s license or other state ID, and to provide a piece of financial data — for example, the last eight digits of a credit card, tax information or the amount of your monthly Social Security benefit.
- Credit history. Answer a few multiple-choice questions about your credit record, such as the bank that holds your mortgage or what credit cards you have. If you placed a freeze on your credit report to prevent scammers from using your information, you will need to remove it temporarily to use this method. Contact one of the three credit agencies — Equifax, Experian or TransUnion — by phone, mail or online to have it lifted.
Get a security code. Once you’ve provided information to verify your identity, Social Security sends a code by text or email, which you can enter to finish setting up your account. You can opt to receive the code by regular mail, though that option can take five to 10 days.
Create a username and password. This will be your My Social Security account log-in. The password must contain between eight and 64 characters and include upper- and lowercase letters, at least one number, and at least one symbol like an exclamation point, ampersand or dollar sign.
As a general rule, longer passwords are better. Another way to strengthen them is to use a favorite phrase from a book or movie and swap in numbers and symbols for some of the letters. And don’t use one you’ve used for other websites. You’ll be able to choose three security questions to answer, so that you can reset your password in case you forget it.
Congratulations! You have successfully created your online My Social Security account.
Protecting your benefits from swindlers
To prevent fraud, Social Security will send you a one-time verification code by text or email each subsequent time you log in. The SSA implemented this process in 2017 to guard against unauthorized use and identity theft.
That’s because scammers who have your Social Security number and address can go online and set up a My Social Security account in your name, if you haven’t already done so. The big risk is if you’re 62 or older. Thieves could start collecting your retirement benefits, and you might not find out about it until years later when you apply for Social Security.
Only one account is permitted per Social Security number, so claiming your account early is key. “People need to plant their flag, because someone could just sign up for you,” cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs, who runs the Krebs on Security website, told AARP in 2018.
Krebs said that in Social Security identity theft cases he’s seen, the victims ultimately had to visit a Social Security office to resolve the problems.
Kenneth Terrell covers employment, age discrimination, work and jobs, careers, and Congress for AARP. He previously worked for the Education Writers Association and U.S. News & World Report, where he reported on government and politics, business, education, science and technology, and lifestyle news.
Patrick J. Kiger is a contributing writer for AARP. He has written for a wide variety of publications, including the Los Angeles Times Magazine, GQ, Mother Jones and websites of the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.