Social Security is our nation's most vital social resource. Each month, more than 63 million benefit checks get sent out, lifting more than a third of recipients out of poverty as a result. Among retired workers aged 62 and up, 62% lean on their monthly payout to account for at least half of their income. In other words, it's pretty important to the financial well-being of tens of millions of Americans.
But it's also a program that many folks don't fully understand the ins and outs of.
For example, over time the Social Security Administration (SSA) has shifted its resources online for current and future beneficiaries. Decades ago, pretty much any question or action required a call or in-person visit with an SSA employee. This isn't to say that SSA employees aren't at the ready to assist people over the phone or in-person should they have a question or need help. But you'd probably be surprised at just how much you can do online with a "my Social Security" account, or through the Social Security website.
With this in mind, here are 15 things you may not have known you can do online.
1. Request a replacement Social Security card
Losing important documents is never fun, especially if it's your Social Security card. The good news is that the SSA allows you to request a replacement card online in most states. As long as you're 18 or older, not requesting a name change or any other changes to your card, and have a valid driver's or state-issued license, most states (32 in total) will allow this action to be completed online.
The exceptions? In Delaware and Wisconsin, you must have a driver's license for this service (state-issued licenses don't work), and in the following 16 states this service isn't yet available: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.
2. Change your address and/or phone number
With a "my Social Security" account you can change your personal information, including your address and phone number, in the "My Profile" section. Furthermore, you get to decide when the change of address will take effect, so this can be done well in advance of a move.
According to the SSA, people receiving a Social Security benefit and folks enrolled in Medicare are able to use their "my Social Security" account to change their address and other contact information. This service isn't available to people receiving a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit, or who don't live in the United States.
3. Request and print a benefit verification letter
You can also go online to request a benefit verification letter. Sometimes called a "proof of income letter," "benefits letter," or "budget letter," it provides proof that you are, or aren't, receiving income from Social Security. This letter can be requested online and printed as proof of income when applying for a loan or mortgage, or when applying for assisted housing or other state or local benefits.
Your "my Social Security" account will also allow you to select what information you want left in or kept out of the final printed copy.
4. Review your Social Security statement
Easily the most compelling reason to create a "my Social Security" account (and the reason I did) is to keep tabs on your Social Security statement. Previously mailed out every five years for workers between the ages of 25 and 60, your online account gives you access to your estimated monthly payout at full retirement age anytime you choose.
This is just an estimate, and it'll prove more accurate as you get closer to retirement age. But simply knowing where you stand from a payout perspective is an important piece of the puzzle when planning for retirement.
5. Check your earnings history
Similar to the previous point, you can also use your statement to verify your earnings history online. Although the SSA is a highly efficient agency, with less than 0.7% of all revenue collected by the program covering its operating expenses, it can make mistakes. If you catch an earnings reporting error before claiming your benefit, it's a lot easier to fix than discovering a mistake after the fact.
6. Use the SSA's retirement, disability, or survivors benefit planner
Another relatively indispensable resource you can find on Social Security's primary website is its benefit planners page for retired workers, disabled persons, and survivors. Each of the separate planners describes how you or your family would qualify for benefits, discusses some of the benefits you may not have known you were eligible for, and details how and when you should apply (at least for the retirement benefits planner).
7. Apply for Social Security retirement or spousal benefits
Sure, it might be the biggest decision you'll make as a senior -- deciding when to begin taking benefits -- but it doesn't have to be complicated. Although you could speak with an SSA employee over the phone or make an in-person appointment, you can also apply for retirement or spousal benefits online through Social Security's primary website. Best of all, the application can often be completed in as little as 15 minutes.
To apply, you'll need to be at least 61 years and eight months old and not currently receiving benefits based on your earnings record. Also, your benefits can't start more than four months into the future, which is why the application age minimum is 61 years and eight months, since the first age of eligibility for retired workers is age 62. Additionally, there are some "Social Security basics" that the SSA suggests you know before applying online.
8. Apply for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits
Similar to the above, the SSA also allows people to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplement Security Income benefits (should you qualify for SSI as well at the time of filing) online.
In order to apply online for DI benefits, you'll need to be at least 18 years old, not currently receiving benefits based on your earnings record, and unable to work because of a medical condition that's expected to last for at least a year or result in death. One additional addendum is that you can't apply online if you've been denied disability benefits within the past 60 days.
9. Start or alter the direct deposit of your benefit
It's your money, so get it faster! Set up direct deposit for your monthly benefit check on your "my Social Security" account under the "My Profile" tab. People currently receiving Social Security benefits can update their direct deposit information at any time, as well as decide when any changes will take effect.
As with other changes through the My Profile tab, this service isn't open to people receiving SSI, or who have an address outside the United States.
10. Report wages if you're currently receiving DI or SSI
Another handy function of the "my Social Security" account is that it allows Disability Insurance and Supplement Security Income recipients to report their wages online. This service is available to folks directly receiving these benefits, as well as to their representative payees, which may include parent(s) or a spouse.
A quick note: This is not a service that's available to beneficiaries receiving a retired worker benefit.
11. Check the status of an application or appeal
If you're an impatient person like yours truly, your "my Social Security" account also allows you to see the status of an application for benefits or an appeal of a denied application. Online users will be able to see:
- When the SSA received their application or appeal.
- The date and time a hearing was scheduled.
- The claim and appeal location, should one be scheduled.
- If a decision on their application or appeal has been made.
12. Print your SSA-1099
One of the most common requests the SSA receives from Social Security beneficiaries is for their SSA-1099 form, which shows benefits received in the previous year. This form is often necessary before benefit recipients can complete their tax filing. The good news is that beneficiaries can go online and print their 1099 directly from the source, which is particularly handy if you're still doing a paper filing as opposed to an electronic filing.
13. Get a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S for tax purposes
If, for some unfortunate reason, you've lost or misplaced your SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S, you can get an instant replacement with your "my Social Security" account. An SSA-1042S would be given to noncitizens living outside the U.S. who received Social Security income, or beneficiaries who received, then repaid benefits in the previous year. Once logged into your account, select the "Replacement Documents" tab to get replacements of your lost or misplaced tax forms.
14. Get a replacement Medicare card
Since the Social Security Administration also oversees Medicare, the nation's most important medical-care program for senior citizens, you can apply for a replacement Medicare card through your "my Social Security" account. Regardless of whether it's lost, stolen, or destroyed, you can go into the "Replacement Documents" tab in your "my Social Security" account and select "Mail my replacement Medicare card." You should receive your new card in the mail in about 30 days, according to the SSA.
15. Apply for Medicare and Extra Help
Last, but not least, you can also use Social Security's primary website to apply for Medicare benefits, as well as the Extra Help program, which can help lower Medicare prescription drug plan costs. The Extra Help program is estimated to be worth about $4,900 a year, per the SSA. In order to qualify, you'll need to have limited income and resources, and must be receiving Medicare.
As you can see, you can do a lot more online with Social Security (and Medicare) than you probably realized.