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Friday, September 13, 2019

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Y O U R S O C I A L S E C U R I T Y

I Can’t Get Involved in Personal Social Security Cases BY TOM MARGENAU

Over the more than 20 years that I’ve been writing this column, I’m sure I’ve helped tens of thousands of people get a better understanding of the Social Security system. But one thing I can’t do is get involved in a reader’s personal Social Security case. Yet, every single day, I get emails from readers asking me to do just that. One very unhappy reader told me that she is getting disability benefits but there is some kind of mix-up involving unpaid student loans. She said that the government held back some of her Social Security benefits to repay these overdue college loans. But she claims she has already paid off the loans. She asked for my help in getting her Social Security money back. In another email, a reader went off on a long rant about how the Social Security Administration was supposedly incorrectly holding back some of her Social Security check to repay an overpayment. I guess she’s been haggling with SSA over this issue for a long time. She wanted me get involved and “do something!” Yet another reader told me that he had allegedly been approved for Social Security disability by a judge. But somehow that decision got reversed, and he’s trying to fight this. He wanted me to tell him why the decision was changed. And here is one more example. An 82-year-old man told me that even though he has been getting Social Security checks for 20 years now, he’s always been convinced he’s not getting enough money. He told me he’s been “fighting with the Social Security people forever” about this and wants me to intervene. Even though I worked for SSA for 32 years, I retired in 2005. Obviously, I no longer have access to any Social Security records or files. And in the 14 years since I retired, I’ve pretty much lost contact with any Social Security official who still works for the agency. So I’m afraid I have no inside track to anyone or any department within SSA. I know a lot of the folks who email me are desperate, so they reach out almost as a last resort. Or they just need to vent to someone. So what can these people do? Well, sometimes they should accept the facts. For example, consider that 82-year-old man I mentioned. I am sure he is being paid correctly. He needs to let this issue go and get on with his life. Other folks who claim to be having problems dealing with SSA need to find someone at their local Social Security office who can help them. And if they believe they are getting nowhere with

the representative they’ve been dealing with, maybe they should ask to speak to a supervisor. If they’ve exhausted all their channels of help within the agency, the only course of action I can think of is to contact their local member of Congress. Each congressperson has someone on staff who works on Social Security issues. And before I leave this topic, I must make this point. The vast majority of people who deal with SSA have absolutely no problems. When they file for benefits, there are no issues. And they get their monthly checks without a glitch. When they have questions, they get answers, either from a staff person at SSA or from the agency’s website. It’s only a very small percentage of people who have (or claim to have) big problems with Social Security. As long as I’m talking about emails from readers that I really cannot help, let me bring up another issue. I’ve been getting a lot of emails recently from readers who give me nowhere near enough information to answer their questions. For example, today a woman wrote to me and asked: “I want to know if I am able to get any of my ex-husband’s Social Security?” That’s all she wrote. To answer her question, I would need to know her age, her husband’s Social Security status, how long she was married, whether she is working or not, and more. Another woman sent this cryptic message. “If I remarry, can I still get my husband’s Social Security?” The answer depends on many factors she didn’t tell me. My message to readers is this. When you are asking a question, please give me as many details about your situation as possible. And now I have just enough space to help someone who gave me all the information I need to answer his question. Q: I will be 66 in December. I’m still working. I plan to wait until I’m 70 to start my Social Security, when I’m projected to get $3,700. My wife is 62. She’s been a homemaker much of her life, but she did work enough to qualify for a small Social Security benefit -- about $830 at 62. I am telling her she should wait until she is 66 to start her Social Security when she will get $1,100. What do you think? A: As I’ve said so often in this column, I am not a financial planner. So I can’t tell you what to do. But consider this. Your wife could file for benefits right now. She’d get her $830 per month. Then you can use the “file and restrict” loophole. You must be 66 before January 2020 to do that. You get in

just under the wire. What that means is you would file for spousal benefits on your wife’s record. You will get $550 per month. Then when you turn 70, you would file for your own $3,700 benefit. And at that point, your wife can claim spousal benefits on your record. Her own benefit will be supplemented up to 50% of your age 66 rate. I’m guessing that rate is about $2,800. So she will keep getting her $830 retirement check, and then she will get an additional $570 on your account to take her up to her $1,400 spousal rate.

And for long-term planning purposes, you should know that if you die first, her widow’s rate will include your delayed retirement credits. In other words, her own benefit will be supplemented up to your $3,700 level. If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at thomas.margenau@comcast.net. COPYRIGHT 2019 CREATORS. COM

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