In a cost-saving move, the agency stopped sending out the annual paper statements. Now it's up to you to set up an online account and get your own statement. If you haven't done so, do it today. And going forward, to help you remember to take a look annually, make it part of your birthday celebration.
Go to www.socialsecurity.gov. Look for the sign-in link for "my Social Security." If you're already receiving benefits, you can get benefit verification letters, change your address and phone number, and input or change direct-deposit information.
When I first set up my account, it took me less than 15 minutes to go through the verification process. The agency uses information from your credit file to verify your identity. Once you've set up an account, you can view your report anytime you want.
As is the trend for many causes or initiatives, Social Security now has its own "my Social Security Week," which started Sunday. As part of its media blitz to encourage people to sign up to get their statements, SSA is hosting a Twitter chat from 1:30 to 2:30 today. The Federal Trade Commission will be on the chat, and I'll be participating, too. To tweet your questions, send to @SocialSecurity and @SingletaryM. While participating in the chat, use the hashtag #mySocialSecurity. If you miss the chat, search for the hashtag on Twitter to read the questions and comments.
Once you get your statement, carefully review the information and heed this reminder you'll find on it: "It's your earnings, not the amount of taxes you paid or the number of credits you've earned, that determine your benefit amount. When we figure that amount, we base it on your average earnings over your lifetime. If our records are wrong, you may not receive all the benefits to which you're entitled."
Your earnings data could be incorrect because your employer reported wrong information or used an incorrect name or Social Security number. Or perhaps you got married or divorced but didn't report the change.
If your earnings information is incorrect, contact Social Security at 800-772-1213. You'll need to provide a W-2 form, a tax return or pay stub as proof of what you earned. If you can't find proof, you may still be able to get the record corrected by providing the dates you worked and your employer's name.
On the statement, there's also an important notice about Medicare. I've worked enough to qualify for Medicare at 65. And even if I don't retire then, I'm reminded to contact Social Security three months before my 65th birthday to enroll in Medicare. If I don't sign up for Medicare Part B (the part for doctor visits and outpatient services), there's a late penalty. And it's not cheap. You are assessed 10 percent for each year past 65 that you don't sign up.