What You Don’t Know About Social Security Can Cost You


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By Steve Garfink, International Living,

There is so much we don’t know about our Social Security benefits. For instance, there’s a strategy that can put an extra $64,488 in the bank for millions of married couples and divorcees. Are you among them? Most people aren’t even aware of this program.

Yet even for those who do have a general idea about this legitimate claiming strategy, their lack of specific knowledge could easily prevent them from cashing in. That’s because they changed this rule in 2015 and eliminated it for many beneficiaries. Even if you qualify—and, again, millions still do—you are as likely as not to be told by Social Security Administration personnel that you cannot use it.

Why? Because many, if not most, Social Security representatives never understood the rule, partly because so few people knew to claim it, so consequently few agents learned how to process these applications.

Since the change to this rule there have been a number of notices circulated within the Social Security Administration to instruct staff on how to deal with it. This seems to have only compounded the confusion for the workers at Social Security. And if they are confused, where do you think that leaves the rest of us?

The Social Security program is governed by several thousand different rules that determine who is eligible for which benefit under a given set of circumstances. No one person could possibly keep up with all of them. As a result, most representatives learn to understand those rules which come up over and over again when they sign people up for benefits.

And consider what the workers at Social Security are up against; staff and budget cuts, the high number of baby boomers who are reaching retirement age (approximately 10,000 per day currently), and a hiring freeze.

What this means for us is that we have to be extra careful to fully understand what our benefit rights are before we file for them. And, we have to be prepared to be our own advocate for those benefits if we meet resistance from Social Security staff.

Let me give you an example.

One of the many changes made to the rules pursuant to the 2015 legislation was the right for a claimant to file and suspend their benefit at their Full Retirement Age (currently 66) and still have family members—most commonly a spouse—file a claim against the suspended account. This option was terminated as of the end of April 2016. Under the new rule, the claimant has to be collecting their own benefit before anyone else can collect a benefit against their account.

However, some Social Security personnel have mistakenly confused this rule—and the associated date—with the end of the spouse claim option that can yield up to $64,488 in extra benefits.

Indeed, a client of mine had this exact experience earlier this year when she was told in no uncertain terms that she is not eligible for this extra benefit when in fact she is. I sent her back to another appointment armed with information to show why this rule did not apply to her (her husband was already collecting his benefit) and to point them to the regulations that make her qualified. Even at that appointment it wasn’t until she was permitted to talk to a supervisor that her rights were finally recognized and they properly enrolled her into this benefit.

While there is much we don’t know about Social Security, we can determine what rules might apply to our situation so that we can be our own best advocate in dealing with the bureaucracy when our time comes to file our claim.

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