Simple Gifts

By Philip Porado | April 1, 2009 | Last updated on April 1, 2009
2 min read

I recently got a statement from the U.S. Social Security Administration that outlines the retirement benefits I’ll receive in about 20 years. I get this statement annually, glance at the bottom line, and normally toss it into a folder for future reference.

But this year, I took a trip down memory lane and had a chuckle about how little money I made in certain years—the income line item for 1993 was memorably bleak. But I also noticed a few years where the numbers looked incorrect, specifically being far lower than what I remembered earning. That’s bad, because the totals for each of those under-reported years pull down my aggregate and reduce what I’ll be entitled to at retirement. I started reading the fine print and was comforted to see a phone number I could call to challenge the totals and request corrections. The catch? You have to have the relevant W-2 forms (the American equivalent of a T4) handy to prove your case.

On my statement, the errors took place more than a decade ago, which makes me take issue with the conventional wisdom that people should destroy tax returns after seven years. I’m not a big paper saver by nature, but tax forms are the exception. Lucky, because after a couple of phone calls and one fax, I’ll be getting $47 extra for every month I’m retired. If I live long enough, and I plan to, that’s going to add up.

What’s good for this editor can also be good for your clients. Service Canada makes similar provisions for checking, and correcting, the amounts credited for earnings that will eventually be used to calculate CPP. To make adjustments, self-employed people need to provide a copy of a T1 annual income tax return that includes earnings and contributions, as well as a Notice of Assessment for any years in which the information is inaccurate. Meanwhile, 9-to-5ers must send a copy of a T4 slip, or a signed letter (on company letterhead) from an employer confirming income and contributions to CPP for the years in question.

Such simple adjustments to programs clients have already paid for create excellent opportunities to start conversations about something you can do together—no outlays, no leverage, no risk—that could put more cash in their pockets down the line. In times like these, there’s nothing better than free money.

Philip Porado