When was the last time you got a Social Security statement in the mail? Chances are good that you don't remember.
That's because the Social Security Administration cut back on sending mailed statements over the past decade and discontinued them for everyone in 2017, except for those age 60 and over who don't have online accounts.
That might not seem like a big deal. After all, we do a lot of things online now that used to be done via post. But it may be more of a problem than you think. Here's why.
Americans are missing out on crucial information
Recent research by the Bipartisan Policy Center revealed the consequences associated with the discontinuation of paper statements, and there are several big issues.
First and foremost, many people simply aren't looking at their statements anymore. In 2010, the SSA mailed out a total of 155 million statements. While there's no guarantee everyone who received one actually looked at it, they had at least had the opportunity. By contrast, just 39 million people have registered for a mySocialSecurity account. For those who didn't, and who aren't among the small number receiving a mailed statement, there was no possible way to check their statement. If their earnings history is incorrect or if there are other errors they need to fix, they would never know it.
Even among those who have registered for an online account, most still aren't taking a look at their statements. In fact, fewer than half of Americans with a mySocialSecurity account viewed theirs during the prior year. And estimates indicate just 33 million people total checked their statement in any form in 2018.
Another big problem is that some people can't or don't want to look at their Social Security information online. Obviously, this includes older Americans who may not be comfortable with technology, but younger people are inconvenienced too. As the Bipartisan Policy Center research revealed, a surprising 76% of all survey respondents said they'd rather get a paper copy through the mail than look at it online, including 70% of people ages 25 to 34.
The consequences of not mailing statements goes beyond just inconveniencing people or potentially leading to workers not correcting errors in their earnings history. According to the Center, research has shown that receiving a Social Security statement not only increases the likelihood that younger people will work, but also results in more older Americans claiming Social Security at a later age -- which is, for most people, the most optimal choice.
To fix these issues and help Americans become more informed about the benefits that will serve as an important retirement income source, the Center believes policymakers should take steps to ensure more paper statements are sent out.
Bills have been introduced to do that already, including the Know Your Social Security Act, which would require a paper statement be sent to everyone age 25 and over who hasn't either opted out or accessed their statement online in the past year.
Of course, with a current fight over post office funding, it's less likely now than ever that the SSA will decide to send more documents in the mail -- despite the benefits that doing so would provide. Since that's the case, you owe it to yourself to register for an account (if you haven't already) and take a look at your statement online every year.