One of the most important bits of advice I offer people is that it's critical to double-check the Social Security benefit statement you receive each year. You want to make sure that the earnings listed on the statement match what you actually earned.
You can check your statement online right now by going to the Social Security Administration's website. Or you can call them toll-free at (800) 722-I2I3 and ask them to mail you your Social Security benefit statement. You are supposed to receive this each year, but if you have moved, it may be going to your old place. So, as with the IRS, make sure the Social Security office has your current address. Over the years, I have found two mistakes on my own Social Security records. So trust me—it is worth taking the time to check. When you retire, the Social Security payments you receive will be based on what the SSAs records say you earned while you were working. If those records say your income was lower than it really was, your benefits will be lower than they should be.
Now Make Sure You Aren't Missing Any Social Security Checks
Here's another one that baffles me. It's reported that approximately half a billion dollars in Social Security checks are either not deposited each year or otherwise go unclaimed. Again, much of this is a result of people moving and not sending the Social Security Administration their new address. But sometimes it's a result of ignorance. For example, when a spouse or parent passes away, the heirs often don't realize they may be entitled to benefits.
The Social Security Administration recommends that you touch base with them as soon as a family member passes away to make sure you receive all the benefits you are entitled to.
Here's an example of one of the many benefits that may be available: A surviving spouse is entitled to a one-time payment of $255 if she or he was living with the deceased or, if living apart, was receiving certain Social Security benefits. If there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to a child who is eligible for benefits on the deceased's records in the month of death.
Family members who may be eligible to receive monthly benefits include:
- A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled)
- A surviving spouse at any age who is caring for a child of the deceased who is under age 16 or disabled
- An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than 18, or is 18 or 19 and a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school, or has a disability that began before age 22
- Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support
- A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances
Again, the place to go to get this information is the Social Security Administration's website. Or call Social Security at (800) 772-1213.
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