Every year after the age of 40, you should receive a Social Security benefit statement about two months before your birthday. Study this document carefully, there’s a lot riding on it – the Social Security Administration uses that data to calculate your Social Security benefits, such as retirement, dependent and survivor benefits. What may seem like a minor error to you, such as a few years that have no record of earnings, can make a major difference in the amount of benefits you receive once you retire. In the worst case scenario, you could lose up to $200 a month.
If you notice that your benefit statement has errors, you should correct them as soon as possible. Start by gathering all the documents you have, such as old W-2s, tax returns or pay stubs. If you have these, the error should be corrected fairly quickly.
But what if you don’t have these documents and you no longer work for that employer? What if that employer has been bought by another company, or worse, gone out of business? That makes resolving the error more difficult, but not impossible. Again, start by gathering all the information you may have, no matter how informal, such as:
The name of the employer, where they were located and when you worked there
The names and contact information of any former co-workers or supervisors that you may have
An estimate of you how much you had earned for the missing period
If your name has changed since that time (due to marriage or divorce), provide the full name that you worked under
Now it’s time to contact the Social Security Administration to discuss the situation. You can call their help line (800.772.1213, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.) or stop by your local Social Security office to discuss the situation with someone face-to-face. For quicker service, it’s recommended to call early in the morning and later in the week or month. Whether you call or visit in person be prepared to wait. Depending on how much paperwork you have (or don’t have) and how long ago the mistake occurred, it could take several months to resolve.
Patience is key. Although the process may seem cumbersome, once the error is corrected, you may see a significant increase in overall benefits throughout your lifetime.
Bankrate.com, December 11, 2006