A few months ago during the Equifax hack, I read that it was smart to freeze your credit (duh), but also to secure your Social Security Identity online. What do I mean by that? I mean create an online account at the SSA with a strong password and two step authentication so that nobody can steal your benefits.
The problem is that you can’t create an online account if you have an active credit freeze. Perhaps this could have been remedied by unfreezing my credit, but I did what my brother suggested and went to the SSA office this morning. It’s located about 0.75 miles away from my work, so after a 7.5 mile bike ride into work this morning (a balmy 12°F after wind chill), I took off on a run, the second leg of my morning duatholon.
Why didn’t I bike to the SSA building, you might rationally ask? I did. Then I realized I didn’t have a bike lock. I contemplated leaving my bike unlocked for a few minutes, taking the front wheel inside as a feeble effort to ward off potential thieves, but I didn’t. Probably wouldn’t have worked anyway given that you have to go through a security checkpoint much like TSA to enter the building. I don’t think my front wheel would have fit through the X-ray machine.
After passing security, I’m greeted by some friendly faces in the lobby.
I finally arrive at the SSA office. It’s a lot like a DMV. Put in your SSN, take a number, and wait for it to be called. The process itself was relatively painless, but it was incredibly informative. I was humbled to see people explaining to the SSA workers that they were having trouble paying for their medicine with the SSA stipend. I heard others asking the SSA workers what the benefits were of delaying the onset of Social Security.
Sitting in that SSA office for a few minutes gave me a glimpse on the fate of hundreds of millions of individuals over the coming decades. With the death of private pensions, the inevitable collapse of public pensions, and the failure of 401ks (through lack of self control, ignorance in investing in high fee funds, improper asset allocation, etc), SSA will provide the majority of retirement income for hundreds of millions of Americans. That’s a sobering thought.
Once you log into your account, you’re able to look up your earnings history. I had a blast doing so. Hers’s mine:
Total Lifetime Earnings: $648.8k
Net Worth: $541.3k
Net Worth / Total Earnings = 83%
The above calculation ignores my wife’s former income, but with her as a stay at home mom for the past 11 years, it wouldn’t move the needle. The above also ignores handouts from the government during our years of schooling (EITC, etc).
Brief timeline of employment:
- 1997 (age 15): Golf course. Low income, but I got free golf.
- 1998 (age 16): Not sure why there isn’t income here. I thought I worked at the golf course.
- 1999 (age 17): Not sure why there isn’t income here. I thought I worked at the golf course.
- 2000 (age 18): Decent money doing manual labor for my father’s company.
- 2001 (age 19): Missionary in South America. No pay.
- 2002 (age 20): Missionary in South America. No pay.
- 2003 (age 21): Door to door salesman selling Dish Network in Indianapolis, Indiana. Spent my summer dodging lightening strikes and tornadoes. Had cops called on me for soliciting, yelled at for knocking doors. Fun times.
- 2004 (age 22): TA for computer programming course in engineering dept. Supplemented with math tutoring of high school students.
- 2005 (age 23): TA for computer programming course in engineering dept. Engineering internship at Fortune 25 company.
- 2006 (age 24): TA for computer programming course. Start engineering job at 56k/year in May.
- 2007 (age 25): Engineer at Fortune 25 company.
- 2008 (age 26): Engineer at Fortune 25 company.
- 2009 (age 27): Engineer at Fortune 25 company. Quit work in August to pursue MBA.
- 2010 (age 28): Business internship during MBA. Worked for Delta airlines. Worked in procurement and had a less than ideal experience, though our family of 5 enjoyed the free travel. Nearly a year after completing my internship, Delta came after me claiming they overpaid me by a grand or two during my internship. Note that this is well after I filed my taxes with the W2s they provided. They threatened to send me to collections. What an inept organization. While working in engineering I thought the grass would be greener on the business side of things. At Delta I learned this was not the case. I resolved then to try to become a business professor (PhD programs have acceptance rates of less than 5%, so it was a long shot), and if that didn’t pan out, return to my cushy engineering job with a good lifestyle and location. Didn’t own a car during this internship and had a soul crushing one-way 1.25hr bike commute + MARTA subway ride + Delta Shuttle from Atlanta airport. My memories of this summer aren’t the fondest.
- I have Delta to thank for providing me the motivation I needed to endure 5 years of PhD hell. Thank you, Delta!
- 2011 (age 29): Back to my former engineering employer for 8 months while waiting for news on PhD applications. Quit in August to start school.
- 2012 (age 30): PhD year 1. $25k stipend exempt from Social Security. I think the $7k income there is from former employer (payout of unused vacation).
- 2013 (age 31): PhD year 2. $26k stipend exempt from Social Security.
- 2014 (age 32): PhD year 3. $28k stipend exempt from Social Security.
- 2015 (age 33): PhD year 4. $29k stipend exempt from Social Security.
- 2016 (age 34): PhD year 5. Left PhD in April. Got professor gig. First paycheck came on Sept 30. Went 6 months without income. Raided Roth IRAs to live + to fund down payment on home, nearly depleting them to zero.
- 2017 (age 35): First full calendar year as a professor. First full year of continuous employment since 2008.
Looking back at my earnings history, it’s evident that I didn’t time my years of schooling perfectly. The stock market is up 278% since its low in 2009. Suffice it to say that I missed out on a lot of gains while taking those years off of school, which is why my frugal undergrad & MBA classmates are now millionaires. However, ever since 2005 we have maxed out our Roth IRAs, so at least we have that going for us.