retirement

Social Security Suspends Mailing of Annual Benefit Statements

Workers must now use online tools to review annual tax and earnings records.

Blame it on federal budget woes and a general migration of information from printed to digital format. Starting in April, most U.S. workers will no longer receive their annual Social Security benefit estimates in the mail.

“In light of the current budget situation, we are suspending the mailing of the annual statements beginning in April,” Social Security spokesman Mark Lassiter tells Kiplinger’s. Congress has failed to agree on a budget for the current fiscal year, which means that most federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration, are operating at last year’s spending levels. Lawmakers have approved a series of short-term spending extensions, but if they don’t reach agreement on hotly contested budget issues, the federal government (excluding essential services) could shut down in mid April.

The annual Social Security benefit statement, which contains a summary of an individual’s earnings history and estimated retirement benefits at various ages, generally arrives about three months before the worker’s birth month. “So folks born in July will likely be the first ones who won’t get the annual statement,” Lassiter says. However, workers can still get an estimate of their projected retirement benefits based on their actual work history at www.ssa.gov/estimator.

The agency began mailing annual Social Security statements to 125 million workers age 25 and older in 1999, at an annual cost of about $70 million. Last year, it mailed statements to more than 158 million Americans. Over the past decade, the annual statement has become an essential part of personal financial planning, supplying critical information about future retirement income and serving as a stark reminder of the need for personal savings to supplement those benefits.

Lassiter says the Social Security Administration hopes to resume mailing annual statements next fall, but only to Americans age 60 and older who are not currently receiving benefits. “The long-term plan is to allow the public to access the statement online,” he adds. “We’re working hard, but we don’t have a timetable yet.”

The individual statements contain more information than is currently available from the online Social Security Estimator tool, such as annual earnings history and estimates of disability and survivor benefits.

The agency estimates it will save $30 million by suspending mailings for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends in September, and will save an additional $60 million next year by restricting mailings to workers 60 and older.

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