Learning about my Social Security with “my Social Security”

When I was first starting out in the workforce, once a year I would get these forms from the Social Security Administration (SSA). It talked about stuff that felt largely irrelevant to me, but it did include a listing of my gross wages every year to date.

This was the only time I considered my wages over time in aggregate.

But it turns out that that’s crucially important as far as Social Security is concerned, because it is your gross wages that are the primary determinant in how your Social Security benefit is calculated.

(In short, Social Security takes into account your highest 35 years of earnings which, when taken with your age at retirement, determines your payout. You can read more about it, but beware, it gets pretty detailed.)

The SSA doesn’t send out those forms anymore as far as I am aware. Instead, they have created a portal, called my Social Security (ugh capitalization, though it’s better than how they do TSA Pre Check), where you can log in and view everything you need to know.

ignore The Capitalization

To be honest, I had never done this before. So I created an account and logged in. Here’s what I found.

Creating an account

I know government websites, back from when I applied for my NEXUS card, so to be honest, I was expecting an experience akin to using Windows 95 with Internet Explorer: clunky, text-heavy, and slow.

Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. Signing up for an account was reasonably painless, and only took a few minutes.

Here’s what you need to sign up

It asked the usual personal information, and went through the not-uncommon process where they confirm a lot of really spookily personal questions about you, such as “On which of the following streets have you lived?” or “How much is your monthly mortgage bill?” (Some of those questions make me wonder if the dossier out there on me knows more about my own life than I do.)

Then there was the standard 2FA (two-factor authentication) security code sent through email. I created a user name and password, and I was in.

it’s A Success!

What they know about me

The site for my Social Security was clean and simple, with a home screen containing my estimated benefit at age 67 and my reported earnings for last year.

my Account Page

That first number is a little misleading, because it assumes that I will be making the exact same amount as this year for every year up until my retirement age, a fact that is very obviously not in line with reality, as the next screen showed.

Because there is also an “Earnings Record” page, and this was what I had come to see. It had a table with all my “Taxed Social Security Earnings”, which for most people just means gross income, all the way back to my first year of income.

my Earnings Record

It was interesting to look at my history of income as a whole, to see how my income had gone up and down, but (thankfully) mostly up.

It was also interesting to see, way down at the bottom, an entry for $320, which must have been that summer in high school where I worked at the public library shelving books.

Ahh, memories.

Also, someone must be a total nerd at the SSA, because not only do they allow you to download your data, but they offer it in XML format. Thanks, but what the hell?

my Validated Schema

While the novelty of seeing your income each year going back to the start of your working career is real, the biggest benefit of this interface is so you can check for errors. As your Social Security benefits are primarily determined by your income each year, if something isn’t tallied here, you could get less than you are owed. With Social Security, every little bit counts.

Don’t worry about Social Security

Now, as a reminder, I reject the whole “will Social Security be around for us?” conversation. Why? Because we have no idea. I’m pretty sure it’ll be around, at least in some form, but that’s not really an educated guess, more of a gut feeling.

But more importantly, I recommend that we plan our financial future without taking into account Social Security. We need to plan for retirement in a way that as much as possible doesn’t rely on a plan that could be legislated away at any time.

With the strategies I talk about on this site, from debt elimination to investing, I believe pretty much anyone can have a comfortable retirement. It starts with planning and dreaming: what do you really want for yourself? You can’t know how to get there, if you don’t know where “there” is.

Otherwise, you’re just looking for “more“, which isn’t going to help you.

If Social Security is there for you when you need it, great. Who doesn’t want more money? And I’m glad that they are making it easy to look at your data. I think everyone should sign up for a my Social Security account.

If nothing else, it might bring up fond memories of your first job.

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