Online access to your retirement benefits

This is a follow up post to my original post regarding my investigation about why my social security estimated benefit statements stopped arriving. The last one I had received was in 2015.

One of the nice things about living in New York city is spotting the occasional actor or comedian.  One time we were in line to get lunch and Chris Rock was at the register in front of us.  The girl at the register was messing with him a little bit and said.  “You don’t need your change…you’re rich.”

He laughed and took it all in fun, but did say, in his distinctively funny voice. “I want my change!”.

That’s how I feel about my Social Security benefits.

I want my money.  I want the money I invested in paying those taxes all those years.

I’ve actually throttled back on employment over the past 5 years, because I think it’s going to be a moving target, or the government is going to “change the rules” after I work myself to death, worrying about if my social security amount will be enough to help me get through.  All that goes out the window if they implement some type of “means” testing, which is actually long over due.  I mean the maximum benefit does reach a stopping point right?  In doing a little research, I found this article by US News and World report on what it takes to get the maximum social security payout.  You have to earn the “taxable maximum” (which has changed and increased over the years).  In 2017 the taxable maximum was $127,000.

That was one of the big reasons that I enjoyed receiving an annual statement from the Social Security administration that stated exactly how much I would receive when I reached retirement age.  It gave me a slight feeling of security that the money was actually there, and they weren’t forgetting about me.

With all the hacking fears floating around, that’s partly why I was concerned when I couldn’t log into the website with my credentials.  You can trying setting up your online Social Security account here.

When I tried to set up an online account, none of the challenge questions looked even remotely familiar.  That led to a series of phone calls and resets that ultimately didn’t work.  They told me I would need to physically go to my local branch office and provide identification to set up an online account.

A couple additional things that I found out, when I took the time to call their call center.

  1. I won’t be receiving another paper statement from them in the mail, until I turn 60.
  2. If I don’t work another day in my life, the amount stated on the statement is what I’ll be receiving when I retire.

Good to know.  However, after reading more at the link above, if you have a $0 year, where you have no earnings that qualify to be taxed for social security, each $0 year can reduce the total that they use to calculate your benefits. (just do your research).

Running “monte carlo” simulations on sites like Wealthfront and Betterment are all well and good, but I like to back those up with numbers from the actual sources.

Is this the DMV for benefits?

Last week, I finally made it down to the Social Security office in my home town and took a number.Social security

It’s actually pretty automated.  When you arrive, you punch in your SS# and it prints a numbered ticket.  There are about 30 windows.

When I called the main administration office, they provided me with the address and told me that it might be best if I go there during the middle of the month, so it would be less crowded.   When I arrived around 10am, there were about 30 people sitting in the large waiting room.

They called me within 20 minutes and after speaking with one person, she said I would need to see the woman down at Window #8 and they would call me again.

Another 15 minutes and she called me.   They faced the monitor toward me and the keyboard was on my side of the plexiglass.

I was presented with similar challenge questions to what I had seen when I originally tried to open my online account.  NOTHING looked familiar.  I told her that, and she glanced a look at another person who had stopped by her desk.   I honestly think this is a common problem with the company that is providing the challenge questions.   One of the questions was “Which bank if your mortgage with?”   XYZ,  First Federal,  blah, blah, blah.   I chose none of the above, because I don’t have a mortgage.   Don’t they realize I’m Jim P. from “FinanceAfter50” !?

She simply said she was going to unlock the account and it pushed through those screens.  It then let me set up a new account name with password.

Got to the main screen that showed my “Estimated benefits” and I logged out and thanked her.

When I arrived home, I immediately logged back in from my home computer.  Phew! It still worked. There is a double level to the security, so you must enter a code received either via text message or to your email address.  It is required that you change your password every 180 days, so keep that in mind if you’re the forgetful type or if you get frustrated by requests to change your password.  The site let me now download the statement that I’ve missed for the past few years.  It comes in a handy PDF format.  My experience at the office was both efficient and courteous.

Social security statement

 

Why worry?

Whether the money is ultimately there or not, or whether or not they re-calibrate the calculations based on other factors is something we can’t worry about day to day.

Being able to check on it and have a real annual estimate is what I was shooting for.  Mission accomplished.

If you haven’t logged in or seen your statement in awhile, you might want to see if you can set up your online account.   Otherwise,  don’t worry, just make sure you get your change at the convenience store.

 

 

 

 

Online access to Social Security