The saga of one financial adviser's attempt to access his estimated benefit information from the Social Security Administration has a happy ending.
I recently wrote about Bob Taylor, an adviser from Chicago, who was frustrated about being unable to retrieve his benefit estimate from the agency's website. After reading my Jan. 28 column, “Social Security goes fully paperless,” he decided to set up his own online account so that he could tell his clients how to do it.
It turned out that because he uses an identity protection service through Equifax that restricts access to his credit records, Mr. Taylor couldn't use the online sign-up service, which cross-references credit report data with Social Security records to prevent identity theft.
“I decided that stopping my fraud alert was not the best choice, so that left me with going to the SSA office in person,” he wrote me in an e-mail. “I put off going because I was afraid of the process.”
As Mr. Taylor expected, he encountered a packed waiting room, so he settled in for a long wait.
But his fears were unfounded.
“I was called almost immediately and was directed to a woman to whom I explained why I was there,” Mr. Taylor wrote. “She asked a few questions, asked for a driver's license, pecked away at the computer, asked a few more questions and then printed out a couple of pages of instructions.”
That did the trick.
“I just logged on and signed up, and it worked,” he wrote in his e-mail, which had the subject line, “Credit where due.”
Mr. Taylor was relieved, and, frankly, so was I. As Congress debates how to trim the federal budget deficit, the public will have to get used to new, more cost-efficient ways to access government services.
Social Security in 1999 began mailing estimated-benefit statements to workers 25 and older but stopped last year. The switch from paper to digital delivery saves the federal government about $70 million annually in printing and postage.
The digital version, identical to the original paper one, includes a year-by-year earnings history and estimates for reduced retirement benefits at 62, full benefits at normal retirement age and maximum benefits at 70. The statements also include estimates for disability and survivor benefits.
Anyone 18 or older with a Social Security number, valid e-mail address and U.S. mailing address can visit socialsecurity.gov/mystatement to sign up for an account.
That's how it is supposed to work, at least, but those with a freeze on their credit reports may not be able to use that process.
Contact the credit bureau and request that it lift the credit record restrictions temporarily so that you can establish an online SSA account. Or, like Mr. Taylor, visit the local Social Security office to show proper identification and create an account.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the creator of Social Security, said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”