I realize many of you who read this blog are too young to be thinking about Social Security. Additionally, we have all been admonished for assuming there will be any funding by the time we reach retirement age. However, if you are a U.S. citizen receiving W2 forms, I strongly urge you to never discard them. Learn from my experience. Here’s my story.
Every year, I scan through my Social Security earnings statement, found online when you register on http://www.socialsecurity.gov/. One day, I noticed that my earnings for two years in a row did not appear under the social security and medicare earnings columns. I don’t know why I never noticed the error before, but once I did, I began an expedition that I hope to help others avoid.
I was filled with dread from the beginning because the missing earnings were from 30 years ago. What I was not prepared for was five months of grueling phone calls, letters, faxes and interactions with people who put more effort into passing me off to someone else than helping me troubleshoot and correct the issue.
Stated on the earnings record statement is the following instruction, which implies help is just a phone call away: “Call us right away at 1-800-772-1213…if any earnings for years before last year are shown incorrectly.” This was the start of my voyage into the sea of bureaucratic roadblocks, which led to the discovery of the error, but not immediate resolution. Apparently, my employer of 30 years ago had a system glitch that resulted in misreporting for some employees during the time period in question.
After learning of this injustice from the human resources department, HR said the best they could do was produce a letter stating my earnings, according to their payroll records, because they do not retain W2s dated that far back. Well, neither do I (lesson learned). After roughly one month of follow-ups and vague apologies, I finally received the promised letter. That’s when the fun really began. The Social Security Administration does not accept a letter as proof of earnings. I won’t bore you with the time invested and rudeness encountered as I exercised tenacity to get this resolved. Trust me, it was a painful process.
Now that I have closure, I feel compelled to caution others. I have heard varying opinions about the recommended time period to retain tax documents in case of an audit, but I have never heard an advisory to hold dearly all W2s received for social security purposes. If you haven’t heard this either, let me be the first to advise. If you destroy your tax papers, separate the W2s and keep them in a safe place – forever. If you are self-employed and receive 1099 forms, I suggest keeping the 1099s and accompanying tax forms as well. Additionally, check your Social Security earnings statement annually.
I know retirement may be far out on the horizon, but just like physical health, problems in earnings records are easier to resolve when caught early.