What Social Security Doesn’t Tell You



Thinking about retirement?  Go to the SS website and read up, then call their 800 number if you still have questions. 


Unfortunately, some of the official information you receive may be misleading or wrong.  Usually it makes no difference -- you just want to know what your own benefits will be.   But if you expect benefits on your  record for children or a spouse, and want to understand your options for early or late retirement, with or without earnings, beware!


SSA computers seem to be accurate -- asked the right questions, they give the right answers.  But asking the right question is not straightforward.  It may require that you know what benefits might be available and make a formal application for them.  The SS representatives are sometimes (in my experience) not much help in “what if” situations.  Thus a potential beneficiary may not make the application and thereby lose the benefits. 


My experience may clarify the risk.  I’m still working.  Arriving at normal retirement age, (65+), I contacted SS, signed up for Medicare, and deferred my benefits in order to receive a higher benefit later.  This is called earning Deferred Retirement Credits.  SS told me that spousal benefits for my wife, already receiving her own SS benefits, would not be available until I started drawing my benefits, just as I had read on the SS website.  My wife didn’t apply for spousal benefits then since there was clearly no point. 


Later, I learned from an “Ask Mary Jane” column that the spousal benefit should be available to my wife.  We went to our SS office, made an application, and were told that her benefit would be awarded but suspended, like mine.  At our suggestion, the  representative checked by telephone with a supervisor.  My wife’s spousal benefits were awarded with six months’ retroactivity (an extra 400+$/mo).  Later, on appeal, she was awarded retroactive benefits (almost 10 k$) back to the date of my normal retirement age, because of SS “misinformation”. 


What to do?  The SS website still offers misleading or wrong information, but is worth reading.  Look around the WWW for information like “Ask Mary Jane”.  Visit your SS office and ask specific questions about the results of specific choices you might make.  Make notes and record names and times.  Don’t take SS advice as final. 


Some suggest making a “protective” filing for every possible kind of benefit at regular intervals.  I don’t know how one actually does this – sounds like gridlock for SS.


Eventually the SS website misinformation we relied on will be corrected (it’s only been wrong six years).  But other inaccuracies will remain, and the representatives won’t be able to keep up.  Beware!