Your Social Security Advisor

SSA Misinformation Leads to Lost Benefits – Ask Rusty

work social security benefits millions paymentsDear Rusty:  I am 64, a widow and I’m hopping mad! I lost my husband a while ago and went to Social Security to apply for widow’s benefits. That all went okay and I’m getting my benefit, but I just found out that I could have avoided a cut to my widow’s benefit and maybe applied only for my own retirement benefit and let the widow’s benefit grow until I reached 66 when it wouldn’t be cut.  To make matters worse, they never explained that I’d be applying for both my own Social Security and my widow’s benefit, so my Social Security payment now is made up of both and they’re both reduced because I took them early.  If I had waited until I was 70 to take my own benefit, it would have been more than my widow’s benefit. I feel that because they never told me my options, especially when I was grieving the loss of my husband, that it’s their fault that I’m losing money. What can I do? Signed: Hopping Mad

Dear Hopping Mad:  It looks as though you were caught in the same miscommunication web that Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently investigated and found that Social Security Administration (SSA) staff had often misinformed or failed to explain all available options to those applying for survivor’s benefits. That, in turn, has been responsible for a lot of “dually-entitled” people getting less than they’re truly entitled to.  Thanks to a savvy SSA whistleblower, the OIG investigated the allegations and found that those who were entitled to both Social Security retirement benefits and survivor’s benefits were often not told that they could apply for either benefit and allow the other to grow to its maximum amount. In your case, you could have simply waited to apply for your widow’s benefit until it reached maximum at your full retirement age (FRA); or, if you needed the money, applied for your own reduced retirement benefit first and allowed your survivor’s benefit to grow to its maximum at your FRA and get that for the rest of your life; or you could have taken the reduced survivor’s benefit only and allowed your own retirement benefit to grow until it reached its maximum at age 70. In other words, you could have restricted your application to either one of those benefits and allowed the other to grow to its maximum amount (Social Security’s “deemed filing” rule doesn’t apply to survivor’s). That you are now receiving reduced benefits with no option to delay either one is, it would seem, a result of a failure by the SSA to inform you of your options, exactly as the OIG found in its investigation.

I believe you have a strong case to challenge the SSA on your application choice due to them not informing you of the alternatives available to you.  You can initiate this challenge by writing them a letter explaining that you would have made a different choice had you been told the alternatives available to you and request a hearing to resolve this issue. You will need to be specific about the who/when/where aspects of your original application, and you should be very clear about which other option you would have selected had you known – to either defer your widow’s benefit until it grew to maximum at your FRA, or to take your widow’s benefit and defer your Social Security retirement benefit until you are 70. In any case, you should not have to suffer the financial consequences of the SSA’s failure to let you know that you had alternatives as a survivor. For more information on how to file a misinformation claim in writing due to the SSA’s failure to advise you of your options, go to this link: https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/416/416-0351.htm and review Section (f) Claim for benefits based on misinformation.

 

The information presented in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The opinions and interpretations expressed are the viewpoints of the AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory staff, trained and accredited under the National Social Security Advisors program of the National Social Security Association, LLC (NSSA). NSSA, the AMAC Foundation, and the Foundation’s Social Security Advisors are not affiliated with or endorsed by the United States Government, the Social Security Administration, or any other state government. Furthermore, the AMAC Foundation and its staff do not provide legal or accounting services. The Foundation welcomes questions from readers regarding Social Security issues. To submit a request, contact the Foundation at [email protected], or visit the Foundation’s website at www.amacfoundation.org.


If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter
and Download the AMAC News App

Sign Up Today Download

If You Enjoy Articles Like This - Subscribe to the AMAC Daily Newsletter!


Subscribe
Notify of
10 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dave
4 years ago

This is one more reason you should ALWAYS consult your financial advisor AND an attorney specializing in SS issues BEFORE you file for SS benefits. Don’t rely on the govt. flunkies answering the phone, talk to someone who KNOWS the law.

Kate
4 years ago

I don’t mean this as criticism, only as possibly helpful to those reading it. In researching Social Security for relatives, I was amazed at the differences between SS representatives I encountered. Some are extremely knowledgeable, professional and helpful. Others just don’t know very much and clearly are reading “scripted narratives.”

My first advice is to politely say “Good-bye” when the person doesn’t seem helpful. Call back until you reach someone knowledgeable and who seems to want to help.

My second advice is to never, ever rely upon one source. Research online about Social Security options. There are a surprising number of helpful articles. Just read them all. By the time you are finished, you will know which authors have their facts straight. Then go to the Social Security web site and read the rules and suggestions (and exceptions.) Look for answers to your questions. NOW, call and speak with a Social Security representative. Once you are knowledgeable yourself, you much better understand what the representative says; you also know what questions to ask. Yes, it’s a bit of an effort, but thousands and thousands of dollars are involved.

Even a very smart representative can misunderstand your individual situation. It is best to have all of your personal information in writing in front of you when you make your call, as well as anything unusual about your situation and any questions you have.

Maria Rose
4 years ago

One thing I found with dealing with Social Security Offices and the clerks working there is to be very persistent as they have so many people to attend to, that a lot slides right by them unless you ask. I made them check to see if I could get spousal benefits first to delay applying for mine, as a divorced spouse, I was entitled since I never remarried. Unfortunately, his benefit was lower than mine because of how his pay was on the books, he only got paid half on books and half off the books, which meant that even though he earned more than me, he showed on records having fewer credits to maximum earnings. But if he ever dies, I can still check and receive survivors benefits.

Kendal
4 years ago
Reply to  Maria Rose

Thanks Maria Rose, I lost everything in the divorce. He took me back to court after signing a reasonable divorce decree and had everything overturned. In other words he paid off the judge and a crooked attorney. I intend to expose this misuse of power in the courts. Have started my own business and will see this through if it takes every penny that I ever make.

Eddie Vaughn
4 years ago

My Mother is 86 years old. She draws a monthly retirement check from the State of Louisiana.
On more than one occasion, she has visited a Social Security Office regarding receiving Social Security.
Every time she has been told that her retirement benefits would be reduced if she drew Social Security benefits as well as her Louisiana State retirement benefits.
Recently I was told that her State retirement benefits would not be reduced, but Social Security benefits would be reduced.
Can you please help with correct ruling?
Thanks,
Eddie

Rusty
4 years ago
Reply to  Eddie Vaughn

Eddie, your mother’s Social Security benefit will be reduced, but not her LA state pension. Her SS is affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision which reduces SS because of a pension from an employer who did not contribute to SS. If you want more info please contact me at the email address ar the end of the above article.

Dave G
4 years ago

As Kim below said, you can “unapply” for SSA, pay back what you have already received and reapply at a later date of your choosing. I did this very thing when an employment opportunity popped up out of the blue and I didn’t need the SSA benefit. Fortunately I only had to repay a couple of months.

Cheryl Grosser
4 years ago

I went to my local Social Security office after my husband passed away in 2010. He is a Vietnam Era, Air Force and Air Force civilian. They told me the benefit would be $250 a month, but I was getting more than that through my Social Security. So I would not qualify for Survivor Benefits. If he knew their reaction, he would be very much insulted after all his hard work for his family and country. Please answer if they are right or wrong.

Rusty
4 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Grosser

Cheryl, if your own SS benefit is more than your survivor benefit then obviously you would want to take your own. But if you can send me more detail at the email address at the end of the above article I’ll be happy to answer your question in more detail.

Kim
4 years ago

A few years ago, I, too, was not given the range of choices available when inquiring about benefits. If SS cannot accommodate “Hopping Mad” based on faulty information they gave her, she should ask about the program that would allow her to pay back all the benefits paid to her, if that is feasible, and letting SS know that she plans to “reset” the start date. I don’t know the proper terms of this arrangement, but I’ve read about it in a few publications. It could make a substantial difference over the long term.

10
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x