Welcome to “Social Security Q&A.” You ask a Social Security question, and our guest expert provides the answer.
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This week’s question comes from Henri:
My brother filed for Social Security benefits recently. He later discovered that he was given incorrect information by the Social Security representative he and his wife met with, which could have cost him many thousands of dollars. Fortunately, after months of effort and many phone calls, he was able to get things straightened out. How can I avoid a similar bad experience when I apply for benefits soon?
Henri, this is a great question because it addresses a very common problem: Social Security Administration representatives are all-too-often poorly trained and consequently give out incorrect information at times. This is especially true for issues that are out of the ordinary.
I have personally worked with dozens of clients who encountered serious roadblocks when attempting to implement our recommended claiming strategy. A few clients have actually called me for help while meeting with a poorly informed and uncooperative SSA agent.
Here is what you can do to protect yourself from a misinformed SSA representative.
How to get Social Security advice you can trust
First, you can do your own research by spending a lot of time on the SSA website and trying to understand the relevant parts of the SSA Program Operations Manual (available online), a document that even some experts find difficult to understand. This approach to arming yourself to deal with the SSA is time-consuming, and it may be futile. Unless you turn yourself into an expert, it will be easy for an SSA rep to simply say, “You don’t really understand the rules.”
Second, you can get professional help. Most financial planners are not experts on Social Security issues. So, your best bet is use one of the internet-based firms (such as mine) that specializes in Social Security claiming matters. Most of these firms provide correct advice. However, will they come to your aid if you encounter a recalcitrant SSA rep who dismisses the report you just purchased? My firm stands behind its recommendations, and we are prepared to jump into the fight and help out at no extra charge.
Third, you need to be prepared to fight for what you deserve. If you are meeting with an SSA representative and believe he or she is giving you bad advice, ask to speak with a manager. Often the manager will set things right. But if the manager seems unprepared to deal with your situation, ask to speak with a “technical expert.” Every SSA office should have one. I have never encountered an appeal that went beyond the technical expert stage.
Finally, if necessary, you can appeal at the national level. Advice on how to proceed with nondisability claims is offered here.
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The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. So, it’s better not to ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you.
I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.
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Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.
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