Social Security pays benefits to tens of millions of Americans, and just about everyone expects to get monthly checks from the program at some point during their lives. By making money available to those who retire or become disabled as well as to their families, Social Security has become a cornerstone of financial planning across the nation.

Understanding exactly what you can expect from Social Security can be really difficult. However, the federal government realizes how complicated Social Security  is, and so the Social Security Administration (SSA) has made an informative statement available to everyone. Your Social Security statement can answer key questions about your benefits and what you can expect, and it's also essential to review it from time to time to ensure that there aren't any mistakes that could cost you money in the long run.

What you'll find on your Social Security statement

The most important part of your Social Security statement is the section that goes over the benefits you can expect. You'll get a summary of how much in monthly payments you can expect if you wait until your full retirement age before claiming benefits. You'll also see how your benefit would be reduced if you take early benefits at age 62, as well as how much more you'd get by delaying your benefits until age 70. You'll also get information about how much you'd get from Social Security disability if you become disabled.

Keyboard with green benefits key.

Image source: Getty Images.

In addition to what you can receive, your Social Security statement will also give your family members a sense of what they can expect from the program if something happens to you. Survivor benefits will give your loved ones an idea of monthly benefits they could expect after your death.

Finally, the SSA gives you your complete income history for Social Security benefit purposes. Along with that, it provides the assumptions that it makes in determining what your projected benefits will be. That's important to know, because if your future turns out to be different -- for instance, you don't work as many years as the SSA thinks you will -- then your actual benefits could be higher or lower than what's in the statement.

How do I get my Social Security statement?

The easiest way to get your Social Security statement is to go to the SSA website. By going to the my Social Security page, you'll be able to sign up to receive your statement. When you go there, be ready to provide some basic personal information to verify your identity.

It used to be that the SSA would mail Social Security statements every year. However, the agency now really wants people to sign up for the online service. Those who haven't signed up can expect to get a paper statement starting three months before their 60th birthday, but waiting that long isn't the best idea.

Fixing problems

The online Social Security service also gives you a chance to fix any errors in your work history. If you find out that an employer misreported your earnings, then you can provide documentation and have the issue corrected. That'll ensure you get all the benefits that you're entitled to when you retire.

Other services are available through an online account. They include replacement cards as well as basic information about the program.

Don't wait to look at your Social Security statement

Nearly everyone relies on Social Security at some point during their lives. By looking at your Social Security statement now, you'll have a better sense of what you and your family can expect from the program. That's useful information that will help you plan for retirement more effectively.