How to Check Your Social Security Benefits

Back in 1999, the Social Security Administration started annually mailing out a statement of estimated benefits to each individual 25 and older. But in 2011 they cut this program, and now you have to take the initiative if you want to get that information.

So why should you care about this? Whatever your feelings on Social Security, it’s a program we all pay into and should understand what we may get from it, so that we can use it as part of our planning. There are retirement, disability, life insurance and health insurance programs that we can qualify for, and it just makes sense to keep tabs on how our estimated benefits are changing over time.

I’ll be describing the process for viewing your estimated benefits online, but at the end you’ll have the option to save a copy for your records. For an example of what the downloaded copy looks like, you can check here. Although the formatting is different than the online version, the information presented is the same.

Step by step guide to accessing your estimated benefits statement

1. Go to

2. Click on the “my Social Security: Sign In / Create an Account” button.

3. Go through the process to create an account. This only takes a couple of minutes.

4. Once you have an an account, sign in and click on the “Estimated Benefits” button.

This brings you to a page that displays your current estimated benefits for several different Social Security programs.

How to read your benefits statement

For each program, you have an estimated monthly benefit based on your current earnings record. However, each program works slightly differently.


You will only have estimated retirement benefits if you have at least 40 work credits. You earn a credit each time you make at least $1,160 in a single year, but you’re limited to four credits per year. So you will have to be working for a little while before you’ve qualified for any benefits.

Assuming you have enough credits, you will be presented with three estimated monthly payments, corresponding to whether you retire at:

  1. Your full retirement age (which is 67 if you were born after 1959).
  2. Age 70 (the point at which your retirement benefits stop growing).
  3. Age 62 (the earliest age at which you can start receiving retirement benefits).

The later you start collecting benefits, the more you will receive. Many people will tell you that delaying Social Security is one of the best ways to secure a financially safe retirement.


Your disability is a single estimate for the monthly amount you would receive if you became disabled. What’s important to understand is that Social Security’s definition of disability is extremely strict. According to their website, you are only considered disabled if you meet each of the following criteria:

  1. You cannot do the work that you did before,
  2. You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s), AND
  3. Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

In other words, you are only considered disabled if you can’t do any kind of work and that condition is expected to last at least one year or the condition is expected to result in death. These are very tough conditions to meet, which is why it’s so important to look into purchasing your own long-term disability insurance policy.


Survivors benefits are essentially life insurance provided by Social Security. This isn’t a benefit many people know about (I certainly didn’t until relatively recently), but it can actually be fairly significant. The benefits are broken down as follows:

  1. Your child: the monthly amount your family would receive per child under the age of 18. If the child is disabled, there is no age limit. The money goes to the child’s guardian (typically the surviving spouse).
  2. Your spouse who is caring for your child: the monthly amount that goes to your surviving spouse if they are caring for your child who is under the age of 16. This is in addition to the amount per child.
  3. Your spouse, if benefits start at full retirement age: the monthly amount that your spouse can receive at retirement.
  4. Total family benefits: the maximum monthly amount that would be paid out to your family. You will typically get to this maximum if you leave behind a spouse with two young children.

This benefit can be extremely helpful to parents who are considering the need for life insurance. When we were determining the amount of life insurance we needed, we factored this in at 50% of the estimated benefit, just to be on the conservative side.


This simply tells you whether you have or have not qualified for Medicare. You will typically qualify for Medicare at the same point that you’ve qualified for retirement benefits.

Save a copy for your records

At the very bottom the screen, you can click on the “Print/Save Your Full Statement” Link. This will allow you to save a copy for your records. It’s definitely worthwhile so you have a point of reference if you check again in the future and something doesn’t look right.

Double-check your earnings record

As a last task before you leave, you can scroll back up to the top of the page and click on the “Earnings Record” tab. This page summarizes the amount you earned each year that contributed to your Social Security benefits. It’s important that they have this right, as this is what determines your estimated benefits. If anything looks wrong, follow the directions on the page to try and get it corrected.


When people talk about Social Security, it’s typically just the retirement benefits that come up. Those are certainly a big part of the program, but for parents especially the life insurance can be a more immediate and crucial component. Staying up on your benefits and understanding how they’ve changed as you progress through the years is an important part of making sure your financial plan has considered all potential sources of income and insurance protection.

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35 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Greg June 10, 2013

    Nice review. I will jump out to see what kind of benefits I have coming to me. The sad thing, though, is that most people my age probably don’t expect the program to continue as is or be around at all when they retire. These are some cool tools to use, though, to see what is out there.

    Also, FYI, I nominated you for the Liebster award. Check out my post at for more info. Hopefully, you haven’t already been tagged for this.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 10, 2013

      We don’t rely on our estimated retirement benefit in our planning, but it’s worth keeping tabs on it as we move through our working years. For all we know it really could still be around as we actually approach retirement, but we won’t really know unless we check. And there are other benefits besides retirement that are definitely worth understanding.

      Thanks for the nomination! I’ve never heard of that before but it sounds pretty cool. I’ll definitely check it out.

  • MyMoneyDesign June 10, 2013

    I think if more people checked out their benefits they wouldn’t be so down on SS. I’ve checked them and even with an early retirement strategy I still stand to make some pretty good money! My plan is to wait until age 70 for both my wife and I, and the maximum benefit. It really does work out to quite a bit!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 10, 2013

      Waiting till 70 (assuming the program still exists!) is definitely a worthwhile approach. I don’t really think it will be completely gone when we get there, but like Shannon says I don’t know what it will look like then so I don’t count on it. But I was very surprised by the amount of life insurance it provides. It’s really pretty significant.

  • Andrew June 10, 2013

    Greg is right that a lot of people our age do not expect Social Security to be around when we qualify. While I am not generally an optimistic person, I think that it will be around…though then benefits may have been further reduced at that point. I think the media likes to scare people, but with working people contributing to Social Security, there is a big source of revenue. Now I wouldn’t rely on it as my main source of retirement income. And good point about using the survivorship benefit when determining life insurance needs. I think a lot of people don’t take that into consideration.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 10, 2013

      I had never even heard of survivors benefits until I really started looking into life insurance, and that was really only by accident. My guess is that social security will be around in some form in the future, just hard to tell to what extent.

    • Drew July 19, 2017

      The problem is that the money being paid into the system is NOT earmarked for social security payments. It’s a giant stream of money into the goverment that we hope they pay us back, someday. Without reducing government expenditures, or a return to a high growth economy, either the benefits WILL shrink, or inflation will rise – thereby making the benefit less valuable.

  • Shannon Ryan June 10, 2013

    Great review, Matt. While I look at any Social Security benefits as gravy since I don’t know what shape or form it will be in when I am eligible to receive benefits, it’s still important to take them into consideration for retirement planning and life insurance. I also think many people didn’t realize they stopped getting those yearly updates by mail, so this is an important reminder to view our benefits. So people will be pleasantly surprised. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 10, 2013

      I would consider the retirement benefits to be gravy as well. I counted the life insurance a little more significantly, just because if we needed it today it would be there. But we’ll certainly track it over the years.

  • Matt, did you see NPR’s recent commentary on disability? It’s very interesting as to how much depth it goes into for the reasons that disability is approved or denied for applicants.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 11, 2013

      I hadn’t seen it. Thanks for the link. Some eye-opening stuff in there. I think this is the kind of thing that haunts any government program. At its core it’s well-intended and I’m sure it helps many of the people it’s designed to help. But there are abuses and unintended consequences, and those are the things that tend to be focused on. I think there are statistics in this piece that are troubling, but I also think it paints a slightly distorted picture of disability and that it’s not like you can just walk into a doctor’s office and claim disability for any old thing. As with anything, there are a lot of complexities.

      As an individual looking for protection, I still want a personal disability insurance policy that isn’t dependent on the current whims of the government, and that has a less restrictive definition of disability.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup June 10, 2013

    I forgot about this. Thank you for the reminder. I might have to jump in and see what’s shaking. I don’t want to count it in my retirement plan, because who knows what will happen to the program.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 11, 2013

      Definitely worth checking out and figuring out how to include it in your planning, even if that means not including it.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money June 10, 2013

    Your social security benefit if you are currently in your 20s: $0. I expect the social security system to look DRASTICALLY different when I hit my 60s….it’s simply unsustainable.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 11, 2013

      That’s certainly possible, but there are also a lot of ways it could be changed without disappearing completely. They could raise taxes, increase retirement age, decrease CPI adjustments, and so on. I have no idea what will happen to it over the next 40 years, which is exactly why I want to know how to keep tabs on it.

      And don’t forget the non-retirement benefits. I feel pretty confident that if I died today, the promised life insurance benefit would pay out. Maybe not forever, but for the foreseeable future yes.

  • Holly Johnson June 11, 2013

    I’m 33…so I wonder what benefits will look like when I hit the SS age. I’m certainly not planning on it!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 11, 2013

      I don’t count on it for retirement either, but I’m not quite as pessimistic as others. I think it very well may exist, just in a different form. But because I don’t know how it will change, it’s not something I’m counting on.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer June 11, 2013

    Great info here, Matt. Like others, I’m not counting on SS, but it’ll be a nice bonus if it still exists in 20 years for us. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 11, 2013

      Maybe it can be your vacation money! It would certainly nice to have some extra income in retirement.

  • AvgJoeMoney June 11, 2013

    it’s interesting. While I see many here aren’t counting on Social Security, imagine it going away….politicians would have to agree to deep six the biggest social program in the United States. I think they don’t have the guts!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 11, 2013

      I’m with you. I don’t think it will go away entirely, but I think it’s incredibly likely that it will look different. Not knowing what shape it’s going to be in means it’s dangerous to count on, but I also think it’s worth monitoring as it may end up being useful as you actually get close to retirement.

  • Lindsey @ Cents & Sensibility June 11, 2013

    I wonder if we can do something like that with the Canadian equivalent of Social Security? It’s one of those things that’s easy to forget but so important to understand!
    Thanks for the article!

  • Ree Klein June 11, 2013

    Hi Matt,

    I agree that while a person shouldn’t count on getting an SSI payments, it’s good to be informed. I am 54 so I’m far closer to a traditional retirement than you or many of your younger readers. I’ve carefully examined my SSI statements over the years and been to the web site many times. Here are a couple observations that could be useful to point out:

    1. In the small print the SSA Statement tells you this: “For 2013 and later (up to retirement age), we assumed you’ll continue to work and make about the same as you did in 2011 or 2012.” That means that if you make less in the following years, your estimated payment WILL BE LESS.

    I know this to be true because the site used to have an option to allow you to enter different future income amounts to test how it would affect your benefit. For some reason, that feature has been removed. This might not be so important for younger people who will likely increase their incomes over the years, but for people in my age range, it’s good to be aware especially for those who have lost their jobs.

    2. I believe that we’ll see this change in the future…those of us who have been financially responsible and saved so as not to be a burden to others will see their SSI benefit cut or eliminated all together. They’ll have to do this to keep the people who were frivolous off the streets. While it will hack me off, I’d still rather be living on what I’ve saved vs a scrawny SSI payment.

    Sorry for the long comment!

    Ree ~ I blog at

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      Great first point about estimations assuming constant earnings. I honestly had never really thought about that from the point of view of someone closing in on retirement age who may have lower income in those later years, but it’s definitely an important consideration. As for your 2nd point, it’s definitely a possibility. I think in most circumstances it makes sense to provide for yourself if possible rather than relying on the government, just so you’re not at risk of those types of policy changes.

      And please, leave as long a comment as you want! I love hearing your opinions and I think longer comments help push the dialogue.

  • Tie the Money Knot June 11, 2013

    Good, informative post. I think many people forget about the real value of social security as it exists today. That being said, I think it’s vital to be informed but also plan on it not being there down the line upon retirement. Rather, plan on a reduced version or it being non-existent. Nonetheless, we should be informed!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      You can’t even make the choice to incorporate it or not if you’re not informed. Great point.

  • Funancials June 12, 2013

    True or false: Social Security will be around in 50 years.

    If true, then how much less will benefits be due to increased inflation versus chain-weighted CPI?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 13, 2013

      I tend to think it will be there in 50 years, but I have no idea what the benefits will look like. Too much time between now and then for things to change, and they will definitely change. So I don’t count on my current estimated retirement benefits, but I do want to stay up to date on what they are.

  • cashRebel June 13, 2013

    It looks like I wont have 40 work credits for a while, but I had no idea how this worked. That’s fascinating!

  • Phroogal June 13, 2013

    I was just asked by a reader about this and will point them over to this post. Thanks made me take a look at my own SS account. I usually check the form that is sent out yearly of my contributions but love everything thats online.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 14, 2013

      It’s definitely nice to be able to get it online so easily, especially since they don’t send out the annual statements anymore. Glad this could be helpful.

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