How to Fix Earnings Mistakes with Social Security

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2015 AARP

Mistakes sometimes happen with people’s earnings statements, potentially leading to incorrect Social Security payments. These mistakes don’t happen very often, but they happen enough that you should pay attention to your own earnings statement.

The SSA used to mail out earnings statements to workers annually, but it cut back to save money. Now it mails them out more selectively. Starting at age 25, workers who have not arranged for an online account are supposed to get written statements in the mail every five years (and annually at 60).

Periodically look at your earnings record and carefully review the year‐by‐year summary of your earnings history. If you have any questions about amounts, check your other records, such as past tax returns. Missed earnings can result in reduced payments, so it’s worth your time. (Don’t worry if the most recent year is missing; it simply may not yet have been recorded.)

Your earnings record may contain errors for a few reasons:

  • The SSA hasn’t noted a name change.

  • Your employer used an incorrect name for you when reporting your earnings.

  • Your employer made a mistake in reporting your earnings.

  • Your employer has an incorrect Social Security number on file for you.

Pay attention to the name and number your employer uses in reporting your earnings. Also, make sure that you, your employer, and the SSA are using the exact same name. Be especially vigilant in the case of a name change.

If you find any errors in your earnings history, you need to correct them — and that takes evidence. The SSA’s preferred evidence is your Form W‐2 Wage and Tax Statement (the SSA wants to deal with your employer on this, so inform your employer of the problem), a tax return, a wage stub or pay slip, your own personal records, or other documents backing up your claim.

If you’re really in a fix and you can’t find such materials, the SSA will want you to write down some facts, as best you can; these include the name and location of your employer, the dates you worked, your wages, and the name and Social Security number you gave your employer.

After you’ve organized your information as best you can, it’s time to contact the SSA. If the SSA wants more information, it’ll tell you what it needs, or it may contact your employer directly.

The time limit to correct your earnings record may be as brief as 3 years, 3 months, and 15 days from the end of the tax year in which an error occurred. That deadline is important. But you may have a little wiggle room — the SSA will make certain exceptions to fix mistakes older than three years.

These include errors that the SSA considers “obvious,” such as earnings mistakenly reported for another person but put on your record. The SSA also has the authority to check its records against your tax returns and fix certain mistakes, even when the deadline has passed.

The SSA uses your 35 years of highest earnings in computing your benefit. You can get earnings data by going to a local SSA office (be prepared to show photo ID). You also can request personal information by printing the form from the SSA site and mailing it to the following address:

Social Security Administration

Division of Earnings Records Operations

P.O. Box 33003

Baltimore, MD 21290‐3003

You may be charged a fee for this information. The form shows the fee schedule, depending on the number of years of information you seek.

It may come in handy to prove that you get Social Security or Supplemental Security Income, especially when you’re applying for a loan or another government benefit. What you need is called a “benefit verification letter.” You can quickly obtain such a letter online if you have a personal account. You also can request the letter by calling Social Security toll free at 1‐800‐772‐1213 (TTY 1‐800‐325‐0778) or by visiting your local Social Security office.