In recent weeks, the Social Security Administration settled a federal lawsuit by agreeing to ease up on the requirements for proving that its earnings records are wrong.
How many workers and retirees it will affect is anyone's guess, so if you feel that you are being shortchanged, now's the time to state your case.
According to a recent report on the settlement, both Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service will streamline procedures for posting earnings and for working through a backlog of cases in which the two agencies' records disagree.
The suit was filed by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare after the General Accounting Office estimated that some earnings of nearly 10 million workers may not have been credited to their Social Security accounts because of errors by employers or the government.
Such uncorrected errors would result in a loss of a portion of retirement benefits. In some cases, workers could be denied all benefits.
The court agreement requires Social Security to accept a person's correction if:
* There is no contradictory evidence, or,
* The government has a record of the person's earnings from the employer in the year immediately before or immediately after the year in question, and the earnings alleged were consistent with the worker's earlier and later wages.
If you're concerned that some of your wages might not have been credited to your Social Security account, here's how to check:
* If you're still working, you should check your records every year or two. Call (800) SSA-1213 and ask for Form 7004. Fill out this form and send it in, and within six weeks Social Security will send you a Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement.
* If you're already receiving benefits, you can get a year-by-year breakdown of your credited earnings by calling the same number or by visiting your local Social Security office. The agency can call up your records on a computer, discuss them with you by phone and mail a printed copy.