Social Security Plans to Stop Mailing Earning Statements

Associated Press: Those yearly earnings statements that Social Security mails out — here’s what you’d get if you are disabled, retired at 62, at 66, at 70 — will soon stop arriving in workers’ mailboxes. It’s an effort to save money and steer more people to the agency’s website.

The government is working to provide the statements online by the end of the year, if it can resolve security issues, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue said. If that fails, the agency will resume the paper statements, which cost $70 million a year to mail, he said.

“We’ll provide it, we expect, one way or another, before the end of the calendar year,” Astrue told The Associated Press. “We’re just right now trying to figure out the most cost-effective and convenient way to provide that to the American public.”

The statements, mailed to 150 million people each year, project future benefit payments, helping workers plan for retirement.

The decision to suspend the mailings was unrelated to the talk of a possible partial government shutdown. It was, however, related to the agency’s operating budget, which has essentially been frozen at 2010 levels — minus about $350 million in economic stimulus money the agency had been using to handle claims.

Claims for retirement and disability benefits are up significantly since the nation’s economy soured in 2008. About 2.7 million people applied for retirement benefits last year, a 17 percent increase from 2008, according to agency statistics. About 3.2 million people applied for disability benefits last year, a 23 percent increase.

Since the 1980s, Social Security statements have been mailed each year to workers older than 25. They include a history of taxable earnings for each year — so people can check for mistakes — as well as the total amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes paid over the lifetime of the worker.

The statements provide estimates of monthly benefits, based on current earnings and when a worker plans to retire. Workers can claim early retirement benefits starting at age 62. Full benefits are available at age 66, a threshold that is gradually increasing to 67 for people born in 1960 or later.

The statements are mailed throughout the year, so many people have already received them this year. Tens of millions have not.

The agency does offer a benefits estimator on its website that Astrue said can be even more helpful than the annual Social Security statements. Workers can enter their Social Security numbers on the website and get estimates of future benefits, depending on when they plan to retire.

The website, however, does not provide the detailed earnings and payroll tax history that workers had been receiving in the mail each year.

Ending the statements is part of a trend in government to conduct more of its business electronically. Social Security already mails out few paper checks. About 88 percent of beneficiaries have their payments deposited directly into their bank accounts.

About 41 percent of applications for retirement benefits come in online, Astrue said. About 44 percent of Medicare applications are done online. In all, the agency’s website attracts about 11 million visitors each month.