So, you’re working for a living, and on payday, you can’t help but notice that taxes are being withheld from your pay. One of them is for Social Security, but what exactly happens to the money you pay into Social Security and how can you keep track of it?
Here’s the low down: The money you pay in Social Security taxes isn’t held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) actually uses your tax money to pay people who are getting benefits right now. That includes folks who have already retired or are disabled, as well as survivors of workers who’ve died and dependents of beneficiaries. The goal, of course, is that people paying into the system when you retire will fund your benefits.
It’s important to keep track of the money you’ve paid into Social Security. You can do so by checking your Social Security Earnings Statement on a regular basis. This statement is mailed to you annually (around your birthday) but you can also view it online. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov and create a “My Social Security” account. If you don’t want to create an account, you can download, complete and mail in statement request form found on the website.
Understanding Your Statement
Your statement is made up of two basic components: 1) An estimate of benefits for which you and your family may be eligible now and in the future and 2) a record of your earnings history and an estimate of how much you and your employer paid in Social Security taxes.
- Page 1: Benefits Estimate: Boldfaced at the top right corner is your estimated benefit at your full retirement age (between 65 and 67, depending on when you were born). Benefit estimates are based on average earnings over your working lifetime. The closer to retirement you are, the more accurate the estimated benefits will be. The actual amount of your benefit is determined when you apply for benefits. It may be different from the estimate in your statement if your earnings increase or decrease in the future.
- Page 2: Retirement Benefits: Included here are details about your retirement benefits at various ages, potential disability benefits and survivor benefits, and possible reductions to your benefits if you receive a pension from work not covered by Social Security.
- Page 3: Earnings History: View your complete earnings history and taxes paid here.
- Page 4: Eligibility Rules. FYI is a summary of Social Security eligibility rules and more facts about Social Security. Be sure to check out the “Thinking of Retiring?” section for an explanation of how retiring early can affect the benefits paid to you and your spouse.
What should you do if you find errors on your statement?
Report it to SSA! Mistakes could prevent you from receiving your full benefit amount. Call SSA at (800) 772-1213.
Robert L. Heller has practiced law in Ohio for nearly 40 years, devoting his entire career to helping disabled people in the Mahoning Valley to pursue needed benefits. A native of Warren, Ohio, Robert earned his undergraduate degree from Miami University of Ohio and his law degree from the University of Toledo College of Law. He also studied public administration at American University in Washington, D.C. He is admitted to practice in Ohio state courts, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio and Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals as well as a member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives (NOSSCR).