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Social Security Blue Bar Report: Why so many need it

David Freitag

Posted on July 13, 2022

David Freitag is a financial planning consultant and Social Security expert for MassMutual.
Close up of older couple meeting a woman in living room with the husband looking at laptop

The Social Security Administration, in the distant past, mailed every year a full annual report to workers about their Social Security benefits. The report was always easy to recognize because the headers on the top and bottom of the pages had bold green lines.

This “green line” form was important because it identified the Social Security payment amounts workers should expect if retirement benefits started at age 62, full retirement age, or age 70. In addition, the “green line” form also had a summary of the paid FICA taxes and Medicare taxes credited for the worker’s entire life.

Typically, this “green line” form was just casually read by most people. It was interesting to see some information about monthly retirement benefit amounts, disability benefit amounts, and the survivor benefit amounts. But after a quick review most workers continued dealing with life’s daily challenges. The “green line” form did not draw a lot of attention. Why?

  • Maybe, because the form was text intensive, folks did not fully appreciate the valuable information that was presented to them about one of their most valuable retirement assets.
  • Maybe, because the retirement income numbers were reported so regularly, the numbers just did not jump off the page and generate a “wow” reaction.
  • Maybe, because the FICA taxes that generate Social Security benefits are an automatic deduction from their paycheck, workers tended to forget how much they have paid into the system and how those Social Security contributions create, inflation-protected, non-market dependent, guaranteed income for life in retirement.

Several years ago, in a cost saving move, the SSA stopped mailing the “green line” form to workers under age 60. With this switch, younger workers (under age 60) can now only get copies of the full statement by creating a “myAccount” on the Social Security web site.

That allowed for improvements. The “green line” form was not all that internet friendly. It was not interactive and did not actively link to important pages on the SSA.GOV web site. Now all of that has changed. So, the upshot is:

  • The good news is that the “green line” form is history.
  • It has been replaced by the “blue bar” online form.

In a move to be more informative, this new interactive site supports web searches, provides year by year information about benefits between age 62 and 70. It also includes links to the Medicare site. Today, this great new site is a mandatory read for anyone who wants to know more about their Social Security benefits.

The bad news is that even with this new and improved reporting capability, too many people are still uninformed about their Social Security benefits.

Each year MassMutual conducts a research project with 1,500 near-retirees to see how well they know some of the details about their Social Security benefits. Even with this new blue bar form now available with a few clicks of the mouse, two-thirds of the respondents barely passed or failed the quiz we used in our research project.

Here some of the results from the study:

  • Four in 10 (40 percent) did not know that under current law, their Social Security benefits could be reduced by 20 percent or more for everyone by 2035.
  • More than a quarter of the respondents (28 percent) did not know that if they have a spouse, the other spouse can receive benefits even if that spouse had no individual earnings history.
  • Over 31 percent did not know that if a spouse passes away, the surviving spouse will not receive both their full benefits and their deceased spouse’s full benefits.
  • Not quite half (43 percent) know that if they get divorced, they might be able to collect Social Security benefits based on their ex-spouses Social Security earnings history.

The addition of the new “blue bar” form and the ability to access the form via a myAccount on the Social Security web site are great steps forward for workers who want to know more about their benefits. However, as our study suggests, each person needs to be more proactive in their quest for important information about their benefits.

They need to:

  • Review their full statement.
  • Understand their choices about taking benefits between ages 62 and 70.
  • Understand how Social Security and Medicare are related topics that all retirees need to better understand.

New technology has made it much easier to get access to the information. Now is a good time to be proactive and improve your knowledge about your benefits. It is easy to sign up for myAccount access.

Hopefully next year as the new blue bar form is accessed by more and more workers, we will have much higher scores on our quiz!

Take the quiz and see how you do.

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The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.