I have in-depth knowledge of Social Security and Medicare because I worked very closely with SSA and other social services.
Social Security Statements: Introduction
Not so long ago, the United States government entity, the Social Security Administration (SSA) would mail you a four-page Social Security Statement once a year as long as you were over 22 years old. Inside this brochure, it would inform you how much you would receive in Social Security benefits if you happened to retire at age 62 and age 66 (67 if you were born after 1960). Age 62 is the earliest age you can start receiving Social Security Retirement at a reduced rate. At age 66 or 67 (depending on what year you were born) is what you would receive if you waited at full retirement age, which is 100% of your Social Security Retirement. If you are willing to wait until age 70, that is 132% of your Social Security Retirement benefits but that is pretty hardcore.
Also on this statement is what you would receive if you became disabled and can no longer work, and survivors benefits, which is what your family could be eligible for if you passed away. These are sometimes referred to as widow's benefits, but they can also go to any of your children under 18 years of age).
Have you ever wondered how they came up with those figures? Well, it's complicated, but the main information factored into that formula is the earnings you received from all the years you worked.
But what if you see some zeroes on the earnings statement for one or more years you swear you were working? For example, you worked 10 years for the same company from 1981 to 1990, earning $20,0000 to $30,000 a year but the year 1985 shows you didn't earn any money from your employer at all.
- Did you take a year off? No, you put in 40+ hours a week with no sick days and vacation days because there are no such things as days off.
- Did you forget to file your taxes? No, because you had to pay back $900 to the IRS while your cousin got a $2000 refund check and used it to put a down payment on a boat.
- Did your employer forget to report your earnings to the IRS? Possibly, since there were management reassignments that year and they might have overlooked at your records.
- Did you use a different Social Security number to file your taxes? Maybe; one wrong number on your Social Security Number can throw off your record. Write legibly next time or better yet use a computer or typewriter.
Whatever the case may be, don't fret. The Social Security Administration can fix it!
Sample Mailed Social Security Statement
How Can SSA Fix Your Earnings?
Social Security can fix anything as long as you are patient but they can't do anything until you inform them of the error and provide proof of earnings. You can call 1-800 772 1213 and tell them but I'll tell you right now, they won't do much. The 1-800 number is very helpful and informative and can fix many things in regards to Social Security issues but they are limited on certain corrective actions. In this instance, if you call them they will forward your information (or complaint, depending on how your speak with them) to your nearest local SSA office.
After they forward your inquiry about correcting your earnings, the SSA office representative would call you if you left a call back number to inform you that your earnings can be corrected but first you must provide proof of the missing earnings. Sounds like a run-around, right? No, SSA can not take any corrective actions until they are given visual, tangible proof in the form of original or certified copies of your earnings. They cannot fix it with just you saying, "My earnings are wrong, I earned 30k in 1985, you need to fix this". It is on you to provide the proof.
To skip this unnecessary step of calling the 1-800 and callbacks and phone tags, just go to the nearest office and visit them. But don't visit the SSA office if you are ill-prepared unless you are going there just to ask questions. If you have the proof of earnings on hand, go to the nearest office and grab a ticket at the door and wait to be called. Some offices are faster than others unless you live in a very populated area. Cities have slow services, you will practically wait one to two hours to be seen. Sometimes some offices will accept appointments for this type of service. Other offices will not since it is a walk-in, first come first serve type of service. You can call the nearest office for an appointment but an appointment may be weeks or even months away. I suggest you just suck it up and wait for an hour or two.
In reality, these corrections have no time limits. They can be fixed at any time. When SSA does get the proofs they need to fix your earnings, it will take them two to six weeks for completion. Yes, more waiting, but if you want the highest possible amount for your Social Security retirement or disability, it is worth it.
Worked Under a Different SSN or a TIN number?
This information pertains to Non-US citizens. If you are an immigrant who worked under a different Social Security Number (SSN) or a Tax Identification Number (TIN) and received a legitimate SSN of your own, please feel free to go to your nearest SSA office. Bring in your W-2s of all the years you worked under the incorrect SSN. For example, if you work under a different SSN from 1992 to 1998, you should have seven years worth of W-2s that need to be transferred to your very own SSN.
What Proofs Can You Use?
The best proofs of earnings are your W-2s. If you looked at your Social Security statements and noticed you are missing earnings for 1985, or missing earnings from 1996 to 2000 and you happen to have those missing earnings in the form of a W-2, then that is all that is needed.
Sometimes pay stubs will suffice. Tax returns are helpful too. But, if you want a clear cut, no-questions-asked situation, bring in your W-2s for the missing years. Pay stubs, tax returns, employer statements, etc., will make the corrective actions more difficult and much longer to complete. Documents submitted other than the W-2s may not have the right information, or enough information for SSA to investigate and verify.
Sample of a W-2
In Case You Are Self-Employed
If you are a savvy entrepreneur and self employed, bring in your Schedule SE.
How to Get These Proofs?
Lets say you don't have the W-2s on hand. Where would you get them? Well, you're not out of luck yet. You can contact the Internal Revenue Service. As long as you filed your taxes and included your W-2s with them, you can get copies from the IRS (for a fee).
Sidenote: SSA does not charge a fee for their services. There are a few fees that SSA will charge you but applying for benefits, replacing a social security card, and correcting your earnings do not cost a thing. If you are paying for these services with SSA, you are being scammed and / or at the wrong website. SSA.gov is the only legitimate Social Security website. If the website ends with something other than .gov than it is a fraudulent website.
What if you can't afford the fee or the IRS can't retrieve it for you? I hope you didn't burn any bridges from your past employer. If you are on good terms with your previous employers, they may be able to obtain them for you. If you can't provide any visual, tangible proofs, then I'm sorry, you are out of luck. Try your best to get any proof of earnings, preferably W-2s, and show it to your nearest SSA office. It will be up to them if what you provided will be admissible. They will try their hardest to see if the proofs you provided can be used.
What Happens Next?
So you managed to get the missing W-2, or W-2s if you are doing more than one year. Turn those in to the representative in your local SSA office. They will either make copies of your original or certified evidence or take them from you and mail it back to you. Either way, bring in the originals or certified copies (you will get them back). The representative will use them to investigate and verify your earnings through their records and interface connected with employers and IRS. It is not something SSA can use without proper evidence (again, preferably W-2s). Once there is a match, they will correct or transfer the earnings to your SSN record which includes your SSA statements.
How Will I Know That the Correction or Transfer of Earnings Is Complete?
You won't know unless you create a mySSA account. Or, you can wait on your next 5th birthday and see it in your mailed SSA statement. I suggest you suck it up and create a mySSA account. If you are afraid of computers or not computer savvy, how are you reading this hub? Don't be afraid of your own abilities. If you have difficulties in creating a mySSA account, your local SSA office can set one up for you and walk you through it.
Benefits of a mySSA account
If this hub was too long for you to read, here's the gist.
If you need to make corrections on the earnings history on your Social Security statement:
- Find your W-2s for the years that are missing in your earnings record.
- Show them to your local SSA office.
- Wait about a month or two.
- Create a mySSA account.
- Check to see if SSA has fixed the problem.
Only You Can Help Yourself
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: My SSA record is incorrect for numerous years. I have now obtained the proof to correct this information but now have cancer and am eligible for disability. Should I just apply for disability or make sure to correct my SSA record?
Answer: Do both, apply for disability, and during your application admit that you don't agree with your earnings and need to fix the discrepancies.
© 2017 Ken