Whether you're ready to retire, just joining the workforce, or somewhere in between, regularly reviewing your Social Security earnings record could make a big difference when it's time to collect your retirement benefits.
Just think, in some situations, if an employer did not properly report just one year of your work earnings, your future benefit payments from Social Security could be close to $100 per month less than they should be.
Over the course of a lifetime, that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in retirement or other benefits to which you are entitled.
Social Security prevents many mistakes from ever appearing on your earnings record. On average, we process about 236 million W-2 wage reports from employers, representing more than $5 trillion in earnings. More than 98 percent of these wages are successfully posted with little problem.
But it's ultimately the responsibility of your employers - past and present - to provide accurate earnings information to Social Security so you get credit for the contributions you've made through payroll taxes.
We rely on you to inform us of any errors or omissions. You're the only person who can look at your lifetime earnings record and verify that it's complete and correct.
So, what's the easiest and most efficient way to validate your earnings record?
Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount to set up or sign in to your own My Social Security account.
Under the "My Home" tab, click on "Earnings Record" to view your online Social Security Statement and taxed Social Security earnings.
Carefully review each year of listed earnings and use your own records, such as W-2s and tax returns, to confirm them.
Keep in mind that earnings from this year and last year might not be listed yet.
If you notice that you need to correct your earnings record, check out our one-page fact sheet at www.socialsecurity.gov/ pubs/EN-05-10081.pdf.
Sooner is definitely better when it comes to identifying and reporting problems with your earnings record. As time passes, you may no longer have past tax documents and some employers may no longer be in business or able to provide past payroll information.
If it turns out everything in your earnings record is correct, you can use the information and our online calculators to plan for your retirement and prepare for the unexpected, such as becoming disabled or leaving behind survivors.
We use your top 35 years of earnings when we calculate your benefit amounts. You can learn more about how your benefit amount is calculated at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10070.pdf.
We're with you throughout life's journey, from starting your first job to receiving your well-earned first retirement payment.
Learn more about the services we provide online at www.socialsecurity.gov/ onlineservices.
Garrett Cooper is the Social Security Operations supervisor in Beaufort.