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Surprise from Social Security
My husband and I had a cordial, even friendly, conversation with a young representative from Social Security this afternoon. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but there was a method to our madness. We had heard that I might be entitled to payment equivalent to approximately half my husband’s social security monthly payment versus what I was receiving based on my work history, without reducing the amount he was already receiving.
Now we were skeptical, as you might imagine. But we had acquaintances who insisted it was true. It made sense for us to check on this, and we tried to get an appointment at the social security office, but were told we didn’t need one. So we were walk-ins. It took an hour for us to be called in, and the clerk, who was very friendly, explained that she could set up an appointment for us to speak by telephone to a staff person to discuss our question. The time was set up a month in advance, followed by a letter and email, explaining that we would be called at the telephone number we had given them. Okay, so it wasn’t efficient, but we figured we were on a journey . . .
At the time we were expecting the phone call, a young man called five minutes early! But we were ready, each of us on an extension phone. He verified the purpose of the call and had to verify my identity through several steps. There were no surprises, although it had been a long time since I’d been asked my mother’s maiden name, so I hesitated. (I suspect the fellow is accustomed to those gaps since he’s often talking to old people.) He proceeded to look at our computer file, rattled off a number of figures (past payments, current payments), and then asked me the key question:
Did you begin to draw your Social Security early?
Oops. The answer was yes, and he had the date and amount in front of him.
(For anyone who might not know, you can begin to draw at the first full month after your 62nd birthday.) We’d calculated that, on balance, it made sense for me to begin drawing it early.
And you can’t change your mind after the fact.
Although my husband didn’t remember our making that decision, I remembered the long, arduous discussions that led up to that choice. Even if I hadn’t drawn early, it turns out, I wouldn’t have qualified.
So we were out of luck. Except I can draw my husband’s full disbursement when he passes. ( My husband kidded the staff person not to give me any ideas and we all laughed. Ha ha. ) Actually, it was a very pleasant encounter, given that we’d just received disappointing news. And it didn’t exactly fall into the category of “it was too good to be true”—it was true, just not for us.
* * * * *
I felt compelled to write about this experience because so many of us have had unpleasant encounters with government bureaucrats. The young man we spoke to was upbeat, thorough, and was probably prepared for blustering from our end. But we are reasonable people–most of the time—and we understood that all the upset and rage would not change any of the numbers. Besides, I enjoyed the bantering; I think he was unnerved by it at first, but once he got into the rhythm of it, he played well.
If I felt a little bad about anything, it was wondering why such a smart, talented, cordial person was working for the federal government? I could just tell by his attitude and smarts that he would have done well in the private sector, even perhaps as an entrepreneur. I wish I’d learned his story, but I let that opportunity slip by.
Maybe next time—if there is one—I’ll ask.Published in General
Did you husband draw early? Can he get payments for what you have paid in.? When is A no longer “early”?
Nope, he waited. And once the deal is done, it’s done. Let’s remember it is the federal government! (I don’t understand your last question. . .)
I was asking if the reverse of this applies?
My first job offer out of college was assembly language programming for the SSA: I couldn’t imagine a more mind numbing job so I took the alternative.
But to your experience:
1 You called to make an appointment.
2 You went in and waited, without an appointment – an hour
3 Rather than discuss your question, they offered to call and talk to you
4 They called – a month later, although it was a nice guy
Did I get that right? I suggest this says more about your patient spirit than it does about the SSA
You can only receive a payment from a spouse who earns more than you do.
I meant to suggest an ironic tone, Chuck. You’re right, of course. But the guy didn’t belong there, IMHO.
I wonder if they outsource servicing to a contractor.
Haha. My spouse waited to draw and I earn more than he does. (He retired to follow me and keep family together. I made Lt Col so my retired pay is more. )
SSA currently has about 65 million retirement and disability beneficiaries, along with another 7 million supplemental security income recipients that it serves while administering the SSI program. It’s not surprising how long it took to get an interview. It doesn’t help that most employees are still not back to their worksites after the COVID fiasco. The guy you spoke with was probably working from home.
Good account of a positive interaction with the SSA. I, too, had a good experience.
I had started my SS benefits at 62 because in the downturn in 2008-09 I lost my job, and I relied on the benefit to pay the mortgage. (Good luck job hunting in your 60s.) Anyway, in May 2022 the bank account where my direct deposits are made was hacked, and I had to close all my accounts at that bank and open new ones. That process took all of a day.
I then went onto the SSA website to change my bank account for the direct deposit and panicked when the only choices for the effective date for the change were either four months out or five months out. What???
So I called the 800 number, waited 35 minutes on hold, and then a very understanding agent, after a few preliminaries, proceeded to make the change, but warned me it might be too late to take effect for that month’s upcoming deposit due to the short time between my call and date for the deposit. But no, it actually was in effect and I did not miss any deposits. Moreover, and this really impressed me, she also suggested that I put a freeze on my credit reports at the three credit bureaus as additional protections against the hackers.
I was never so pleased with an agency’s response.
[Edited to correct date]
I forgot we had to change banks, too, but because we were so angry at Chase. But just like your situation, SSA handled it quickly and effortlessly. So glad you had such a good experience. May I ask if you continued your job hunt?
After 2 years and 300+ job applications that yielded a single interview and no offers, I opened my own solo practice in 2011, and continue to this day. Thanks for asking!
Oops — 2022. Fixed.
Ironclad job security.
I think you meant 2021. It must not be your day for numbers! Congrats on starting your own practice!
If so, I then would want to know did he grow up in a financially insecure family? Or was he just insecure by nature? Or did he want to make sure he had a pension? Or was it job security at all? I think I’m figuring out why I didn’t open that can of worms ….
Thanks, but I actually opened up November 1, 2011, after two years of job hunting. Never thought I’d still be at it in my mid-70s but hey, as long as I can do the work and there are clients who want my services, I plan to continue. Cheers!!
Sorry–I messed up the dates. Looks like you’re doing better with numbers than I am. And if you’re loving the work, go for it!
Yeah, I know what you mean. I always dread dealing with a federal agency but I had a pleasant surprise when I applied for my Social Security. I suppose the fact that I lived in a relatively small community had something to do with it; the SSA folks live in the same small community and attend the same churches, shop at the same stores, etc.
My wife and I had about a ten minute wait and our SSA Rep was courteous and knowledgeable. I waited until my full retirement age to draw “Uncle Sugar’s” pay and I’m glad I did. My wife went ahead and drew her SS pay early because, when I go to that great airfield in the sky, she’ll get my full pay.
I’ve actually had a similar experience with our local Social Security office. The Web site wasn’t helpful, the automated phone system was a nightmare, and pretty much every aspect of the system seemed designed to prevent us from talking to a human. But once we got a human on the phone, she was extremely helpful and knowledgeable and helped us navigate through the confusion.
I imagine a large majority of the people they talk to are already annoyed by the time they finally get someone on the phone. It’s a job I wouldn’t want.
Yeah, I would wager that a lot of their irate customers come from the Supplemental side of the house. (As opposed to the Retirement side.) A lot of these folks (in my area) were hurt in the coal mines or at some construction site, have no medical insurance coverage and absolutely no source of income other than from the government. The government makes them jump through all sorts of hoops (physical exams, etc.) and if the decision is made to deny their claims, they take it out on the SSA representative. I wouldn’t have their job; I don’t care how much they would pay me.
One would expect a social security bureaucrat to be cordial down in Florida. Can you imagine the number of complaints he would get? Or possibly being threatened by a grey haired mob? 😉
I remember meeting one woman at church, back when my wife and I were attending a few years ago, who said she worked for the government. She said she had worked in the private sector as a Certified Public Accountant, but didn’t like it because the firm she was working at had her work very late hours during tax season.
She said she would be working at 8 o’clock in the evening, not knowing where her children were (her husband abandoned her after she gave birth to twins). She also mentioned that she when she became an accountant for the federal government, she only took a pay cut of about 100 dollars a month. She didn’t sound like she was interested in going back into the private sector.
Any really bad or unpleasant experiences with the SSA?
He was in the local office (or linked to it).
And I agree, Manny. Some of those old folks (usually from NY) can get nasty. ;-)
Shocking isn’t it that a government agency can work so well. That has been my experience for the past eight or nine years. Back before I retired I was surprised to learn that once I reached my full SS age I could draw my full benefit while still working. The lady on the phone was extremely helpful, walked me through applying and the SSA was prompt in sending the back benefits I was entitled to.
When I retired they were extremely efficient in getting my Medicare started
When my Dad died in 2017 I got a prompt appointment for my Mom to claim his benefits and it was speedily taken care of.
And lately, when my husband died, I got the phone call back appointment to qualify me for the $255 (whoopee!) death benefit and everything went through without a hitch.
Each time I was very careful to thank them for being helpful and efficient.
SSA has always done a very good job training its employees in the program’s procedures and inculcating the attitude that their primary function is public service.
The last few years of work, I took the retirement planning class every time it was offered. We had the same instructor, a lady who worked at OPM for almost 40 years. Initially, she recommended waiting until full SS retirement age before drawing. The last few classes however, she changed and said if you can, retire at 62. Her explanation was that she reran the numbers to calculate the break-even point IIRC (where you would have withdrawn the same amount of money), and discovered it made more sense to retire as early as possible. My wife was already at full SS retirement age, so it made sense for me to retire at 62 with no regrets. Zero, zip, nada . . .
Senior Gangster Gangs…lol.