Social Security Check: Incorrect Work Records Could Harm Benefits — and There’s Limited Time To Fix

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Chances are you are not receiving the overall maximum allowable Social Security benefit payment every month. To do so, you would have had to earn the equivalent of at least $147,000 annually (in today’s dollars) in 35 years of employment to claim this benefit. You’d also have to delay claiming Social Security until 70 when you qualify for your largest possible checks. The average person’s Social Security check is only about 40% of the maximum.

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Whatever benefit payment you are receiving, if there is an error or missing information on your Social Security record, you might be getting less than you are entitled to.

Since the beginning of Social Security, there have been a total of $1.2 trillion in wages that could not be matched to an earnings record. Because they couldn’t be matched, they were added to the Earnings Suspense File, the electronic holding file known as Social Security’s “secret stash.”

The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates your benefits by using your highest 35 years of earnings as the base. If any of these 35 years is incorrect or missing altogether, the average is skewed negatively. Unless you’re attentive about monitoring your earnings record, a single mistake or an earnings gap in your calculations could have a substantial impact on your Social Security benefit payment.

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If you did look at your earnings record and notice a mistake, the burden is yours to prove it, and there is a time limit to do so. The SSA’s policy on fixing an earnings record states, “An earnings record can be corrected at any time up to three years, three months, and 15 days after the year in which the wages were paid or the self-employment income was derived.”

This limit looks strict and set in stone when you read it on a screen, but there are several exceptions to this rule. Also, if there is a genuine error on the part of the SSA, your employers or your recorded earnings, you should be able to rectify it by working with the SSA. If you are missing supporting documentation, you might have to build some profiles of employers and dates of employment from days long gone by.

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Whether you have concerns or not, a yearly record check of your employment history and Social Security statements is a good idea. As is having a Social Security account. Dealing with fussy records or paperwork is often more arduous than most are prepared to undertake. However, when talking about money rightfully owed to you and what you deserve for a life of working, it can be well worth the effort.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.
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