Where to Go for Social Security Help

Where to Go for Social Security Help
Photo by Diva Plavalaguna from Pexels

One of the emails I got today went like this: “I get a small Social Security check and my husband’s benefit is much larger. How do I find out if I can get any extra benefits on his record?”

Answer: Contact the Social Security Administration. Simply call them at their toll-free number: 800-772-1213.

Another email said: “I am about to turn 62 and I want to file for my Social Security. Can you help me with this?”

Answer: No I can’t. You’ve got to call SSA at 800-772-1213. Or better yet, file online at their website: www.socialsecurity.gov.

Another kind of email comes from readers who are looking for financial advice. They provide me with their entire work history, marital history, earnings history and a spouse’s work and earnings history. They frequently tell me about all their assets and liabilities. They ask me to help them make retirement plans and tell them when they should file for Social Security benefits.

Answer: I am not a financial planner. I’m just an old retired Social Security guy. As such, all I can do is explain Social Security rules. I strongly recommend you spend 10 bucks and get my little Social Security guidebook called “Social Security — Simple and Smart.” One of the chapters in that book explains when and how to file for Social Security. I think it will answer all your questions.”

Other emails complain about service they got, or that they are trying to get, from the Social Security Administration. They can’t get through to SSA’s toll-free service line (800-772-1213). Or they talked to someone at SSA and didn’t like the answer they got. Or they are trying to resolve some problem with their benefits, and they think the resolution is taking too long. They usually ask me to intervene or “do something” to resolve their problem.

Answer: With respect to getting help at the 800 number, all I can suggest is patience. You might have to wait on hold a while, but someone will eventually answer the phone.

With respect to intervening in a case, I have been retired from the agency for 16 years now and I have absolutely no clout with anyone there. I suggest you ask to speak to a supervisor or manager at their local Social Security office.

I always recommend dealing with someone at the local office. Some people think they are being smart by “going to the top” — by trying to deal with someone at one of SSA’s regional offices or even at their headquarters’ complex in Baltimore, Maryland. That is a big waste of time. You are always better off dealing with local staff.

To illustrate what I mean, let me share this with you. I worked for many years at SSA’s headquarters outside of Baltimore. There were about 10,000 people working there. And each of those folks had some sort of administrative job to do. They were not there to help individual Social Security recipients. (Again, that’s what local Social Security offices are for.)

Still, every day, people would walk into the main headquarters’ building — some of them having traveled across the country to do so — and demand to speak to “someone at the top about my problem.”

These folks were ushered into a little office where I assume they thought they were talking to a headquarters’ big shot. In actuality, this office was staffed by representatives from the Randallstown, Maryland, Social Security office — the closest field office to SSA headquarters.

If that Randallstown rep couldn’t handle the situation, the case was always referred back to the local office in the town where the visitor lived — the place the person should have gone to in the first place to handle the problem. (I realize that things are different for the time being with many offices partially closed due to COVID-19. So, consider this long-term advice when the world gets back to normal.)

If you simply can’t get help from the staff or management of your local office, then I suggest you contact your local congressional representative. They always have someone on staff who handles Social Security issues.

To sum up, if you’ve got business with SSA, you’re going to have to call them at 800-772-1213 or go online at www.socialsecurity.gov. And if you have a problem, ask to speak to a manager, or contact your local member of Congress.