WASHINGTON – Those yearly statements that Social Security mails out – here’s what you’d get if you retired at 62, at 66, at 70 – will soon stop arriving in workers’ mailboxes. It’s an effort to save money and steer more people to the agency’s website.
The government is working to provide the statements online by the end of the year, if it can resolve security issues, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue said. If that fails, the agency will resume the paper statements, which cost $70 million a year to mail.
“We’ll provide it, we expect, one way or another, before the end of the calendar year,” Astrue said. “We’re just right now trying to figure out the most cost-effective and convenient way to provide that to the American public.”
The statements, mailed to 150 million people each year, project future benefit payments, helping workers plan for retirement.
The decision to suspend the mailings was unrelated to the talk of a possible partial government shutdown. It was, however, related to the agency’s operating budget, which has essentially been frozen at 2010 levels – minus about $350 million in economic stimulus money the agency had been using to handle claims.
Advocates for older Americans say they are sympathetic about the agency’s budget problems, but several said an online option is insufficient, especially for people who may not have computer skills or access to computers.
“As far as the information being available online, that’s not going to help a lot of people we work with,” said Max Richtman, executive vice president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
Since the 1980s, Social Security statements have been mailed each year to workers older than 25. They include a history of taxable earnings for each year – so people can check for mistakes – as well as the total amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes paid over the lifetime of the worker.
The statements provide estimates of monthly benefits, based on current earnings and when a worker plans to retire.
The agency does offer a benefits estimator on its website that Astrue said can be even more helpful than the annual Social Security statements. Workers can enter their Social Security numbers on the website and get estimates of future benefits, depending on when they plan to retire.
The website, however, does not provide a detailed earnings and payroll tax history.
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