The Social Security system is notoriously frustrating. For example, did you know that it is not the job of the Social Security Administration to advise beneficiaries how best to take their benefits? This means staffers at your local Social Security office may not understand every arcane rule or unusual circumstance you may face. Some beneficiaries have asked the same question of several different Social Security representatives. Each time, they get a different response.
This is not to say that the hard-working staffers at your local Social Security office are incompetent or uncaring. They truly do want to help and they are well-versed in many of the most common claiming strategies and benefit options. Unfortunately, given the complexity of Social Security rules, no staffer can know about every single situation that may affect benefits. It’s possible that you could receive incorrect information from a staffer.
Here’s what you need to know to get the best information about your Social Security benefits:
Unusual Situations Can Cause Confusion
Most beneficiaries who are processed through the Social Security Administration fit neatly into one of several standard claiming strategies. But if your situation is outside of the norm, then you may get bad advice when you talk to the representatives at your local office.
For example, let’s say a beneficiary is applying for Medicare benefits after age 65. According to the law, beneficiaries who have healthcare benefits through another source are not required to sign up for Medicare upon reaching age 65. But most beneficiaries do not have benefits from another source, and they must sign up for Medicare at age 65 or face a fine. Since a given Social Security staffer may not have encountered this rule, a beneficiary who is trying to get her Medicare benefits based upon it may find herself having to state again and again that she is not subject to the fine.
This is why beneficiaries must do their own research into the particular rules and claiming strategies regarding their situation. It is ultimately up to you to understand the specific rules that affect your personal situation.
Do Your Homework
Take Notes When You Speak to Social Security
- The date and time of the conversation
- The name of the person speaking with you
- What next steps the representative advises you to take
- The specific Social Security rule governing the situation
- Any potential issues, concerns, fines, or problems that might arise from either taking or not taking the next steps suggested by the representative.
The Buck Stops with the Beneficiary
The folks working at your local Social Security office have a very difficult job. They must process a huge number of beneficiaries through a complex, bureaucratic system. Inevitably, some claiming situations will be outside their experience, which means they may not have the answers you need.
Beneficiaries must recognize that the responsibility for claiming their benefits correctly lies with them. The Social Security Administration employees can assist you, but you have to be your own expert on your particular situation.