FROM THE IRS: Here’s what taxpayers should do to protect private data

Taxpayers should protect their personal and financial data from criminals who continue to steal large amounts of information. Thieves use the data to file bogus tax returns and commit crimes while impersonating the victim.

All taxpayers should follow these steps to protect themselves and their data.

Keep a secure computer. Taxpayers should:

  • Use security software that updates automatically. Essential tools for keeping a secure computer include a firewall, virus and malware protection, and file encryption for sensitive data.
  • Treat personal information like cash; don’t leave it lying around.
  • Give personal information only over encrypted and trusted websites.
  • Use strong passwords and protect them.

Avoid Phishing and Malware. Taxpayers should:

  • Not respond to emails, texts or calls that appear to be from the IRS, tax companies and other well-known businesses. Instead, verify contact information about companies or agencies by going directly to their website.
  • Be cautious of email attachments. Think twice before opening them.
  • Turn off the option to automatically download attachments.
  • Download and install software only from known and trusted websites.

Protect personal information. Taxpayers should:

  • Not routinely carry a Social Security card or other documents showing a Social Security number.
  • Not overshare personal information on social media. This includes information about past addresses, a new car, a new home and children.
  • Keep old tax returns and tax records under lock and key.
  • Safeguard electronic files by encrypting and properly disposing them.
  • Shred tax documents before trashing.

Taxpayers should forward IRS-related scam emails to phishing@irs.gov. They can report IRS impersonation telephone calls at www.tigta.gov.

Beware of Scammers Pretending to be Social Security

Please take note; there’s a scam going around right now.

From the Social Security Administration:

In the digital age, frauds and scams are an unfortunate part of doing business online. During the holiday season, Social Security has traditionally seen a spike in phishing scams, and we want to protect you as best we can.

We urge you to always be cautious and to avoid providing sensitive information such as your Social Security Number (SSN) or bank account information to unknown individuals over the phone or internet. If you receive a call and aren’t expecting one, you must be extra careful. You can always get the caller’s information, hang up, and — if you do need more clarification — contact the official phone number of the business or agency that the caller claims to represent. Never reveal personal data to a stranger who called you.

Please take note; there’s a scam going around right now. You might receive a call from someone claiming to be from Social Security or another agency. Calls can even display the 1-800-772-1213, Social Security’s national customer service number, as the incoming number on your caller ID. In some cases, the caller states that Social Security does not have all of your personal information, such as your Social Security number (SSN), on file. Other callers claim Social Security needs additional information so the agency can increase your benefit payment, or that Social Security will terminate your benefits if they do not confirm your information. This appears to be a widespread issue, as reports have come from people across the country. These calls are not from Social Security.

Callers sometimes state that your Social Security number is at risk of being deactivated or deleted. The caller then asks you to provide a phone number to resolve the issue. People should be aware the scheme’s details may vary; however, you should avoid engaging with the caller or calling the number provided, as the caller might attempt to acquire personal information.

Social Security employees occasionally contact people by telephone for customer-service purposes. In only a few special situations, such as when you have business pending with us, a Social Security employee may request the person confirm personal information over the phone.

Social Security employees will never threaten you or promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information. In those cases, the call is fraudulent, and you should just hang up. If you receive these calls, please report the information to the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or online.

Remember, only call official phone numbers and use secured websites of the agencies and businesses you know are correct. Protecting your information is an important part of Social Security’s mission to secure today and tomorrow.

Social Security Benefits to Increase in 2019

man and woman on balcony outside smiling Each year we announce the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Usually there is an increase in the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit amount people receive each month, starting the following January. By law, federal benefits increase when the cost of living rises, as measured by the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).

The CPI-W rises when prices increase for the things the average consumer buys. This means that when prices for goods and services we purchase become more expensive, on average, the COLA increases monthly benefit levels and helps you keep up with the changing cost of living.

As a result, more than 67 million Americans will see a 2.8 percent increase in their Social Security and SSI benefits in 2019.

January 2019 marks other changes that will happen based on the increase in the national average wage index. For example, the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll tax, as well as the retirement earnings test exempt amount, will change in 2019.

Want to know your new benefit amount as soon as possible? In December 2018, we will post Social Security COLA notices online for retirement, survivors, and disability beneficiaries who have a my Social Security account. You will be able to view and save these COLA notices securely via the Message Center inside mySocial Security.

Be the first to know! Sign up for or log in to your personal my Social Security account today and choose email or text under “Message Center Preferences” to receive courtesy notifications so you won’t miss your electronic COLA notice!

This year, you will still receive your COLA notice by mail. In the future, you will be able to choose whether you receive your notice online instead of on paper. Online notices will not be available to representative payees, individuals with foreign mailing addresses, or those who pay higher Medicare premiums due to their income. We plan to expand the availability of COLA notices to additional online customers in the future.

You can find more information about the 2019 COLA here.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself as You Plan for Retirement

The Social Security Administration recently published an excellent article to give you more information to help plan your retirement. It is published in its entirety below. For additional information, visit the SSA website.

Deciding when to start receiving your retirement benefits from Social Security is a decision that only you can make, and you should make that decision with as much information as possible. There are a lot of important questions to answer.

Should you claim benefits earlier and get a smaller monthly payment for more years? Or should you wait and get a bigger monthly amount over a shorter period?

There are no right or wrong answers, but we encourage you to consider these four important questions as you plan for your financially secure retirement:

How much money will I need to live comfortably in retirement?

Anticipate what your expenses will be in retirement, including things like mortgage payments or rent, utilities, healthcare insurance and related costs, food, personal care, car payments and maintenance, entertainment, hobbies, travel, and credit card or other debt. Also, consider whether you’ll need to provide for your spouse, children, or grandchildren.

What will my monthly Social Security retirement benefit be?

The average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker in 2018 is $1,404 (up from $1,377 in 2017). The average monthly Social Security benefit for a disabled worker in 2018 is $1,197 (up from $1,173 in 2017). As a reminder, eligibility for retirement benefits still requires 40 credits (usually about 10 years of work). The Social Security Act details how the annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is calculated. You can read more about the COLA on our website. The best way to get an estimate of your retirement benefit is with a my Social Securityaccount. Get yours today.

Will I have other income to supplement my Social Security benefits?

Secure your financial future with a retirement portfolio that includes savings, investments, and possibly a pension plan. If you’re willing and able, you may choose to increase your income by working past retirement age. Social Security replaces a percentage of a worker’s pre-retirement income based on your lifetime earnings. The amount of your average wages that Social Security retirement benefits replaces varies depending on your earnings and when you choose to start benefits. If you start benefits at age 67, this percentage ranges from as much as 75 percent for very low earners, to about 40 percent for medium earners, to about 27 percent for high earners. If you start benefits after age 67, these percentages would be higher. If you start benefits earlier, these percentages would be lower. Most financial advisers say you will need about 70 percent of pre-retirement income to live comfortably in retirement, including your Social Security benefits, investments, and other savings.

How long do I expect my retirement to last?

Anticipate the length of your retirement, keeping in mind that many American workers will live much longer than the “average” retiree. Consider your health, family longevity, and lifestyle. Your Social Security retirement benefits will provide continuous income for as long as you live, protecting you even if your other sources of income run out. Discover your life expectancy with our online calculator.

No one can predict the future perfectly, but careful planning and preparation will help you to make a well-informed decision about when to start receiving your Social Security benefits.

If you’ve contributed enough to the Social Security system through FICA payroll taxes, you can receive your full retirement benefit at age 66 or 67 depending on when you were born. You may also claim it sooner, starting at age 62, at a permanently reduced rate. Or you may wait until after your full retirement age, increasing your benefit amount by up to 8 percent per full year to age 70.

Social Security is with you through life’s journey, and we’re here to help you prepare for a financially secure future for you and your family. We invite you to use our online retirement planners.

April is National Social Security Month

Here is the Social Security article reprinted in full. Or go to their link to read it.

National Social Security Month Shines a Light on Our Online Services

In April, we celebrate National Social Security Month, and highlight our agency’s mission and purpose. We’re with you throughout life’s journey — from birth, to marriage, and into retirement — and we’re always searching for ways to give you easy and secure access to everything we offer.

We are constantly expanding our online services to give you freedom and control in how you wish to conduct business with us. Our online services help you plan for the future and keep you in control of your benefits. You can go online to:

  1. Find out if you qualify for benefits;
  2. Use our benefit planners to help you better understand your Social Security protection;
  3. Estimate your future retirement benefits to help you plan for your financial future;
  4. Retire online, or apply for Medicare quickly and easily; and
  5. Open your personal my Social Security Your personal account is the most powerful tool to help you stay in control of your Social Security record. If you don’t receive benefits yet, you can:
    • Get your Social Security Statement to review your earnings, make sure they’re recorded correctly;
    • Get a benefit verification letter to prove you don’t receive Social Security benefits or that you applied but haven’t received an answer yet;
    • Request a replacement Social Security card if you meet certain requirements; and
    • Check the status of your application or appeal a decision.

If you receive benefits, you can:

  1. Change your address and phone number;
  2. Get a benefit verification letter to prove you receive Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Medicare;
  3. Start deposits or change your direct deposit information at any time;
  4. Get a replacement Medicare card; and
  5. Get a replacement Benefit Statement (SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S) for tax purposes.

Do you own a business? You can also use our Business Services Online suite to report employee wages and verify names and Social Security numbers for W-2s.

Join us and celebrate National Social Security Month by seeing everything you can do online!

 

10 Handy Ways to Use Social Security Online

There are many easy ways to use our website. Here are some common and not-so common uses:

Apply for Social Security benefits online, of course! This is the fastest, most convenient way to apply for retirement, spouses, disability, or Medicare benefits, without visiting a local office or calling to speak to a representative.

Want access to our latest news, retirement planning tips, and sound guidance? You’ve come to the right place – our blog, Social Security Matters. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, where you can watch our popular videos.

Verify your annual earnings and review estimates of your future Social Security benefits when you access your Social Security Statement, one of the many services available with a my Social Security account.

Numbers can tell a story. Our online calculators such as the Retirement Estimator, the Life Expectancy Calculator, and the Early or Late Retirement Calculator, can be found on our calculators page.

Lost or missing Social Security card? Find out how to get a new, replacement, or corrected card. In fact, you may be able to apply for a replacement card with a my Social Security account, if you meet certain qualifications.

Noah, Emma, Liam, Olivia…are these the most popular baby names for 2016 in the U.S. or in your state? Discover the trends in baby names, or take our online quiz to help you pick the ideal name.

Do you have to pay taxes on Social Security benefits? How do I apply for Social Security retirement benefits? What is your full retirement age? Discover the answers to your Social Security related questions at our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Dream of moving to London, Paris, or the Cayman Islands? Learn how Social Security makes international payments and how you can do business with us from around the world.

Are you a veteran? Are you at mid-career? Or maybe you’re new to the workforce. Find out how we fulfill your needs throughout life’s journey on our People Like Me page.

If you like to read and prefer to know all the details, our publications webpage is a library of helpful information.

Simple, easy to use, beneficial, and always here to help you secure today and tomorrow, visit us today.