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If You Do Only 1 Thing This Social Security Month, Do This

Dan Caplinger, The Motley Fool

Social Security plays a role in the lives of nearly every American, between the benefits that tens of millions of retirees and disabled people receive and the payroll taxes that are taken out of the paychecks of hundreds of millions of workers. These workers, their spouses, and other family members rely on Social Security benefits to protect them financially, and for many people, Social Security represents the majority of their income after they retire.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) wants everyone to know more about the benefits that they've earned and has declared April to be National Social Security Month. So as the month draws to a close, there's one thing that you can do to make sure that you get the most out of Social Security for yourself and your family.

Three Social Security cards with a brass key on top.

Image source: Getty Images.

Open an account on the "my Social Security" website

The SSA has embraced online innovation and sought to shift many of the things it used to do by paper onto its internet site. The my Social Security program is designed to help you manage your benefits effectively and efficiently while minimizing the chances of identity theft. In the past, the SSA sent out Social Security statements in the mail each and every year, but now, the agency is urging everyone to create a my Social Security account to access that information more securely on their computers or mobile devices.

Signing up for access is relatively easy. You'll need some basic personal information in order to verify your identity, and you need an email address to set up your account. However, the process doesn't take long.

What you can do with my Social Security

There are several things that the SSA's online system lets you do. The most important is seeing your Social Security statement. On the statement, you'll get information on what your estimated benefits are based on your past earnings record and assumptions about your future earnings. You'll see how much you'll be projected to get in monthly benefits at your full retirement age, as well as the higher monthly payments you'll get if you wait until age 70 and the lower monthly payments from claiming earlier at age 62. You'll also find out how much you'll be entitled to receive if you become disabled, and learn what benefits your surviving family members will get if you pass away.

You also can access your earnings history using my Social Security, which provides the basis for estimating your retirement and disability benefits. There, you'll see all of your earnings dating back to the beginning of your career. If you see problems, then the website gives you instructions on how to contact the SSA to correct the issue. It's vital that this information be absolutely accurate, because your Social Security payments in retirement will be based on the 35 highest-earning years of your career after indexing for inflation.

Finally, my Social Security can help you replace missing documents. For instance, if you've lost your Social Security card or had it stolen, then the SSA can walk you through the process you'll need to follow in order to get a replacement.

Make the most of my Social Security

Perhaps the most useful aspect of my Social Security is that it serves as a good central clearinghouse for information about Social Security. In conjunction with the broader ssa.gov website, my Social Security is a valuable tool you can use to find out more about your particular benefits and how the program will help you.

Even if you don't sign up for online access, you still will get a Social Security statement in the mail every five years. But with so much to gain and no reason to wait, it's smarter to get yourself set up with online access. That way, you'll be able to keep tabs on your benefits and make sure you and your loved ones get every penny from Social Security that they deserve.

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