Personal finance tasks are occasionally (frequently?) not fun for many of us. Even as a personal finance writer who has found enough enjoyment in personal finance related activities to continue writing about them for over a decade, I’ll grant that the creation of account logins with government agencies is not high on the list of entertaining ways to spend some free time on a Saturday afternoon.
But, as with most personal finance inputs, the future returns are often multitudes higher than the time invested. Taking a few minutes to create 5 governmental accounts that I’ll highlight in this article now could help prevent identity theft and save you dozens of hours of headaches in the future and even provide you with valuable insights, benefits, and features that you will likely repeatedly turn to. In other words: eat your broccoli. So, let’s get started.
USPS Informed Delivery
Where to create your account: USPS Informed Delivery website
USPS Informed Delivery (link to my prior in-depth write up) is a free service that was launched by the U.S. Postal Service in 2017 (it is still rolling out nationally) that will email you and provide online images of letters and tracking information for packages that have entered the USPS distribution chain that are addressed to you and should theoretically hit your mail or PO Box soon. You can also see when an item was delivered. How is this information beneficial? I see at least a few valuable applications:
- It allows you to keep track of what is on its way and what was delivered while you are traveling (particularly helpful if someone needs to grab items off your porch or empty your mailbox while you are out of town).
- It allows you to roughly keep track of when a piece of mail will reach you or if it has even been sent out, which can prevent a lot of time on the phone with customer service at various institutions.
- It gives you assurance that everything that you are expecting to reach your mail box actually does, and take appropriate steps if it does not (e.g. monitoring your mailbox or reaching out to the sender).
The benefits for helping to prevent identity theft are numerous. Unfortunately, the same Informed Delivery technology that provides this beneficial service and has the potential to help you prevent mail identity theft also has the potential to create it, if an identity thief beats you to creating an Informed Delivery account and has advance knowledge of what is about to hit your mailbox (e.g. packages or bank, credit card, tax, or other financial information). Enrollment requires a few basic pieces of information, such as the cities and addresses of prior residence and sale price of home – all of which could easily be found through public databases, social media, and elsewhere. There have been reported cases of this happening. So, it would be wise to get there first to claim ownership to protect yourself and gain the benefits that the service provides.
I check my Informed Delivery email updates daily and you will likely do the same. It’s a great technology.
Where to create your account: Login.gov website
An increasing number of U.S. government agencies are using login.gov as their account management system of choice, including TSA Precheck/Global Entry, USAJOBS, Small Business Administration, and Social Security (as one login option). The novel idea behind login.gov is that you can create one shared login that can be used across any federal governmental agency. We’re not 100% of the way there yet, but a number of agencies have signed on to the service. When I renewed by Global Entry application earlier this year, I was asked to create a new login.gov account even though I had previously created a separate Global Entry (GOES) account. Creating a login.gov account in your name now could help make future interactions with the government easier as more governmental agencies move over to this system.
Where to create your account: Social Security website
The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) stopped mailing out statements a number of years ago, so you’ll have to get your Social Security statements online unless you are age 60 or older. While signing up for any new account can be a minor hassle, Social Security is one that you don’t want to skip. Most of the readers of this site may be decades away from drawing their first Social Security check, but there are plenty of reasons to create a Social Security account now. Here are just a few:
- To view an overview of your reported earnings history and remedy any errors (under-reported income could reduce your Social Security payments)
- To see if you are fully qualified (or not) to earn Social Security benefits, based on your work history
- To view projections on what your Social Security payments will be based on your retirement age and prior earnings history
- To replace your Social Security card, if needed
- To start a retirement or disability benefit application
I’ve written an in-depth guide to Social Security for young people (specifically anyone under the youngest eligible Social Security retirement age of 62). Social Security’s demise has been greatly exaggerated as retirement benefits are fully funded through 2033 and current projections estimate that they will be paid out at 72% as far out as 2096 (when a 30-year old reading this will hit the sprite age of 104), even with no further program modifications. The majority of retired Americans are dependent on Social Security income today, and I do not anticipate that changing in the future – so it’s smart to begin becoming familiar with it now.
Where to create your account: IRS website
If you are a U.S. taxpayer, consider creating an IRS login as a necessity. Creating an IRS account will enable you to access a number of helpful features:
- View your IRS balance
- View an overview by tax year
- Make IRS tax payments online and view payments for the last 5 years (including estimated tax payments)
- View any pending or scheduled payments
- View or create payment plans
- Learn about payment plan options, view payment plan details, and apply for a new payment plan
- Manage IRS communication preferences
- Go paperless for certain IRS notices
- Get email notifications for new account information or activity
- View key data from your most recently filed tax return, including your adjusted gross income, and access transcripts
- View information about your Economic Impact Payments
- View information about your advance Child Tax Credit payments via the Child Tax Credit portal
- View digital copies of certain notices from the IRS
- View Tax Pro authorizations
- View any authorization requests from tax professionals
- Approve and electronically sign Power of Attorney and Tax Information Authorization from your tax professional
That is a lot of value for the effort of creating an account. The only downside is that you will need to create an ID.me account if you do not have one already, and that can be a time consuming process for some.
Where to create your account: your state’s unemployment website
In short, fraudulent unemployment claims are one of the top forms of identity theft and financial fraud in the United States in recent years, culminating in potentially hundreds of billions in fraudulent claims during the COVID pandemic alone, as estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General. And one of the top 4 variants of fraud came from “claims with suspicious email accounts” – identity thieves claiming unemployment in someone else’s name using false email addresses.
What you want to avoid is an identity thief creating an account and claiming benefits in your name. There may be few things worse than getting a tax bill for unemployment benefits that you never received and/or applying for unemployment insurance (at a time of need, after a job loss) only to find that you are ineligible for benefits or face a lengthy or delayed remediation because a fraudster has already created an account and claimed benefits in your name. Beat them to it.
- Do you have any personal stories of identity theft that could have been avoided by creating one of these accounts?
- Are there other government accounts that you would recommend creating? Which one(s) and why?
- Which accounts have you created or avoided creating previously?