If you're years away from retirement, then you may not spend much time thinking about Social Security. But actually, it's a good idea to sign up for a Social Security account even if you're still planning to spend a fair amount of time in the workforce. And it's especially important to have an official Social Security account as retirement nears. Here's why.
1. To prevent fraud
You never know if or when a criminal might get a hold of your Social Security number and use it to file a claim for benefits on your behalf -- only instead of that money landing in your bank account, it'll end up in the hands of someone who's not entitled to it.
If you set up a Social Security account, you'll be able to see if someone has filed a claim for benefits in your name, and at that point, you may be able to correct the problem more easily than you would if you were to find out about it a year or so later.
2. To verify that your earnings on record are correct
The monthly Social Security benefit you're entitled to is based on your specific wage history -- specifically, the amount of money you earn during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce.
Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issues workers an earnings statement, and yours will summarize your taxable wages for the year. Checking those statements is important, because if you find that your earnings are underreported, you'll have an opportunity to correct that mistake before it results in a lower monthly Social Security benefit for life.
Now if you're 60 or older, your earnings statement will show up in the mail. But if you're younger, your best option for accessing that statement is via the Social Security account you create.
3. To estimate your future monthly benefit for better planning
Your annual earnings statements, in addition to wage summaries, will also provide an estimate of your future retirement benefit. And having that information could help you better plan for your senior years.
You might, for example, assume that come retirement, you'll be entitled to a monthly benefit of $2,000 from Social Security. But if you're in your 50s and you see that your estimated benefit is only $1,600, that could push you to ramp up your savings rate to compensate.
Of course, the older you are, the more accurate your benefit estimate is apt to be, because, as mentioned, it's based on your 35 most profitable years in the labor force. If you're 35, that estimate won't mean nearly as much it will when you're 55. But even if you're younger, you can use it as a starting point.
How to create a Social Security account
Creating a Social Security account is easy. You'll just need to provide some personal information and set up a username and password on the SSA's website. Having that account could benefit you in more ways than one, so carve out a little time to get it done sooner rather than later.