Who would imagine that you could get a wrong estimate of your Social Security benefits from -- guess who -- the Social Security Administration?
The story is yet another reminder about how you need to double-check your numbers, take a hard look at what you're being told and keep good records of previous Social Security statements.
In an odd quirk, Social Security finally acknowledged in early August that a glitch caused the agency to send out some incorrect "On Request" paper statements. The troubled reports were triggered if you asked for information on your Social Security account via a paper form, known as an SSA-7004.
"Of the tens of thousands of paper requests the agency receives annually, less than 1% of those statements issued contained errors," according to an email from Mark Hinkle, acting press officer in the national Social Security office.
Social Security said a coding issue caused errors on a very small number of the "On Request" statements that were issued since 2017. Hinkle said the statements displayed the correct estimated benefit amounts but the mistakes were made when the projected benefits were applied to incorrect ages at which the person would receive them.
Even so, it's a pretty important number as you plan your retirement. Do you want an estimate that's off by hundreds of dollars a month?
If you have average earnings, according to the federal government, Social Security replaces 40% of income in retirement. The percentage is lower for people in the upper income brackets and higher for people with low incomes.
And frankly, we likely wouldn't even know about this mess if it weren't for a Social Security gadfly who rang the alarm bells.
How the errors came to be known
I first reached out to Social Security on July 5 to ask about reports that some statements did contain errors. My questions were triggered after I spoke with a well-known Social Security expert who had heard of an isolated problem. I didn't get an answer from Social Security until early August.