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This CNBC article makes some good points about an issue that hardly any of us think about it. Just last week I received my first statement in the mail. I became nervous because I wasn't sure if what I was reading was accurate or not. For one, I can't remember all of my earnings over the past ten years, and why should I trust the government to provide me an accurate work history? After all, I'm quite literally a number to them. That's what brings me to inform others, and discuss how to find and fix possible errors in your Social Security statement.
According to the article, the Social Security Administration (SSA) mailed 47.9 million paper statements in 2016. We have to remember that statements aren't mailed every year. So keeping up with your statement, unless you use the online feature, could prove to be difficult. 26 million people have a My Social Security account, which allows you the convenience of paperless statements.
Your monthly SS retirement benefit is based on your highest 35 years of earnings. That is why it is very important to make sure that it is reported correctly in your statement. If you worked 45 years, your 10 lowest earning years will not be counted. The article also shows that typically a statement doesn't reflect accurate earnings. The SSA processed 92,000 complaints about statements this year alone. The Government Accountability Office found that the SSA has often failed on giving out key details to people in meetings and online, which could cost someone tens of thousands of dollars.
So how does one fix statement errors? Well, time is of the essence. If errors are found, one must correct them within 3 years, 3 months and 15 days following the year of the mistake. If the time limit has passed, it's recommended that you try to have them fixed anyway, since the SSA has been known to correct mistakes after the deadline.
You'll need to prove what you've earned, so that the SSA can correct it. You can use a W-2 form, a tax return or a pay stub as proof of your earnings. If such documents aren't handy, you can provide your employer's name, the dates you worked and how much you earned. The easiness of correcting errors greatly correlates to how recent the error was committed.
It's advisable that everyone keep track of their statements. Even if errors are not found, it's a great way to keep track of and improve your earnings record, at the very least.