On Retirement

Surprise! A trip to the Social Security office isn't hell on earth

One adviser's visit to the local bureau was easier than expected; there's hope

Feb 25, 2013 @ 9:35 am

By Mary Beth Franklin

The saga of one financial adviser's attempt to access his estimated benefit information from the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a happy ending.

As you may recall, I recently wrote about Bob Taylor, an adviser from Chicago, who was frustrated by not being able to retrieve his benefit estimate from the agency's website. After reading my January 27 column Social Security goes fully paperless (http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20130127/REG/301279999), Mr. Taylor decided to set up his own online account so 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 Social Security 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,” Mr. Taylor wrote to me in an e-mail. “I put off going because I was afraid of the process,” he added. As he expected, he encountered a full parking lot and a full waiting room so he settled in for a long wait.

But his worst fears were unfounded.

“I was called almost immediately and was directed to a woman to whom I explained why I was there,” he 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 apparently did the trick. “I just logged on and signed up and it worked,” he wrote in an e-mail to me that was slugged “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 stopped mailing estimated benefit statements to workers age 25 and older last year, ending an annual ritual that began in 1999. The switch from paper to digital delivery saves the federal government about $70 million annually in printing and postage.

The digital version is identical to the original paper version, including a personal year-by-year earnings history and estimates for reduced retirement benefits at age 62, full benefits at normal retirement age and maximum retirement benefits at age 70. The statements also include estimates for disability and survivor benefits.

Now, anyone age 18 or older can sign up for an online Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement as long as they have a Social Security number, have a valid e-mail address and have a U.S. mailing address. At least, that's how it's supposed to work.

But if you have a credit freeze on your credit report, you may be unable to use the online process. The solution? You can contact the credit bureau and request that it lift the restrictions on your credit records temporarily so you can create an online account with SSA. Or, you can do what Mr. Taylor did and visit your local Social Security office in person to show proper identification and create an online account.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the creator of Social Security said, sometimes “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”


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