Social Security: Checking Your Earnings and Benefits

Learn how to get your estimated Social Security retirement and disability benefit amount and check the number of work credits you have.

Periodically checking your estimated Social Security benefits serves several purposes: It helps you plan for retirement and allows you to check for and correct errors. It can also help you plan ahead to make sure you or your loved ones are covered in case of disability or death.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) keeps a database of your earnings record and work credits, tracking both through your Social Security number. You can see this information on your Social Security Statement. The Social Security Statement also gives you an estimate of the benefits you'll receive at retirement age or if you become disabled, which can play an important role in your financial planning.

How to Get a Copy of Your Social Security Statement

You can go online to get a copy of your Social Security statement or view it online. Go to and open an account with Social Security to view your statement. (You can no longer request a printed statement using Form SSA 7004.)

The SSA mails out Social Security Statements only to seniors who are age 60 and over who don't have Social Security accounts (and who aren't already receiving Social Security benefits).

What You'll See on Your Statement

Your statement includes a record of the earnings on which you've paid taxes. It also includes an estimate of the benefits you'll receive at various retirement ages (62, 67, and 70), as well as your benefit amount if you become disabled at any age.

In addition, the statement will tell you if you've earned enough work credits to qualify for retirement benefits, disability benefits, and/or Medicare, and whether you've earned enough credits for your spouse and minor children to collect survivors benefits if you were to die.

Check Social Security's Math

When you check your record, make sure that the Social Security number noted on your earnings statement is your own, and make sure the earned income amounts listed on the agency's records mesh with your own records of earnings as listed on your income tax forms or pay stubs.

It's always wise for you to check the SSA's record of your earnings. Don't be surprised if you uncover an error. Some government-watchers estimate that the SSA makes mistakes on at least 3% of the total official earnings records it keeps.

How to Correct an Error on Your Social Security Statement

If you have evidence of your covered earnings in the year or years for which you think Social Security has made an error, call Social Security's helpline at 800-772-1213, Monday through Friday. This is the line that takes all kinds of Social Security questions, and it is often swamped, so be patient. It is best to call early in the morning or late in the afternoon, late in the week, or late in the month. Have all your documents handy when you speak with a representative.

If you'd rather speak with someone in person, call your local Social Security office and make an appointment to see someone there, or drop into the office during regular business hours. If you drop in, be prepared to wait, perhaps as long as an hour or two, before you get to see a representative. Bring with you two copies of your benefits statement and the evidence that supports your claim of higher income. That way, you can leave one copy with the Social Security worker. Write down the name of the person with whom you speak so that you can reach the same person when you follow up.

The process to correct errors is slow. It may take several months to have the changes made in your record. After Social Security confirms that it has corrected your record, log in to your Social Security account to make sure the correct information made it to your file.

How to Use Your Benefit Estimates

As your statement will show, your Social Security retirement benefits will vary depending on when you claim them before or after your full retirement age (66 or 67, depending on the year you were born). The longer you wait to start receiving payments, the higher your benefit amount will be.

However, it's not always better to wait until your full retirement age to claim your Social Security benefits. If you need your Social Security benefits for living expenses, or you have a health condition that makes it unlikely that you will live past age 75 or so, you may be better off collecting your benefits sooner rather than later. You can use a calculator at the Social Security website to see which retirement age makes the most financial sense for you (go to

For comprehensive practical information about how and when to claim Social Security benefits, see Social Security, Medicare & Government Pensions, by Joseph Matthews with Dorothy Matthews Berman (Nolo).

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