The Social Security Administration is now providing workers with online statements of the estimated benefits they will get when they retire, replacing the paper ones the agency used to mail out.
Until last year, the agency mailed out yearly statements that told you how much your benefits would be if you retired at age 62, 66 or 70. Social Security stopped mailing the paper statements to save an estimated $70 million a year.
This year, the agency resumed mailing them to people once they reach 60, but younger workers were left out.
The agency announced Tuesday that workers 18 and older can now go online, to www.ssa.gov, where they can create a secure account to see their information.
The new online statements are part of a larger government effort to use new technologies to communicate with taxpayers and distribute benefits. The federal government is phasing out paper checks for all benefit programs, including Social Security.
New beneficiaries had to start receiving electronic payments last year. Almost all beneficiaries will have to make the switch to electronic payments by next March.
The online Social Security statements 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.
Workers can get higher benefits if they wait until they turn 70 to apply.
"Our new online Social Security Statement is simple, easy-to-use and provides people with estimates they can use to plan for their retirement," Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said. "The online statement also provides estimates for disability and survivors benefits, making the statement an important financial planning tool. People should get in the habit of checking their online statement each year, around their birthday, for example."
Advocates for older Americans were unhappy when the paper statements were discontinued last year, and some don't think the online statements are an adequate substitute, said Web Phillips, a senior policy advisor for the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare.
"The whole purpose of the statement was to make sure everyone got important information about Social Security," Phillips said. Without a paper statement, many Americans won't get the information, he said.