Social Security Hodgepodge This is going to be another "hodgepodge" column. Instead of providing detailed answers to just one or two questions, I'm going to give just brief answers to as many questions as I can squeeze into the space allotted to me. Q: I am going to be 62 in …Read more. Trying Too Hard I've written columns before about people who, in my opinion anyway, are trying way too hard to squeeze every last nickel out of their Social Security benefits. They've gone to one too many of these "Maximize Your Social Security" seminars that are …Read more. Just Call Me 'Mud' My name is getting to be "Mud" with employees at some local Social Security offices around the country. It's not because they have taken offense at something I wrote. (Although that does happen from time to time.) But in some recent cases, it's …Read more. Marriage May or May Not Cut Benefits I have written several columns lately describing how a bit of miscommunication on behalf of my readers can lead to misinformation from me. This week's mailbag brought another example of this. It involves Sam and his wife-to-be. Sam sent an email …Read more.more articles
Finding the Right Person to Help You
My wife and I recently decided to leave the dark ages and join the rest of the always-connected and always-online world. We got smartphones! Oh, we've been using computers ever since they became popular and we've had a series of iPads almost since the time they first came out. So we are not complete Neanderthals when it comes to the world of technology.
But we thought we could get by with our cheap and old-fashioned no-contract, no bells and whistles cellphones for the rest of our lives. That was, until we watched in almost constant envy as our kids and grandkids did all these amazing things with their iPhones and Androids. We finally decided to bite the bullet and get connected.
I did a fair amount of research and thought I had a pretty good idea about which phone and which data plan I wanted. Off we went to the local outlet of a well-known big-box electronics chain. With my wife by my side, I wandered around their smartphone display until a pleasant-looking young woman finally asked me if I needed some help. I eagerly said yes and started asking her questions.
But then, almost immediately, things started to go downhill. Every question I asked was met with some hemming and hawing. Every answer she gave was delivered with hesitation and trepidation in her voice. She constantly seemed to be looking around as if she needed help from another associate. We eventually sat down at a little desk. As I asked more questions, she leafed through a brochure looking for answers that never seemed to come. My wife and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. We finally made some excuses and got up and left the store — dejected and discouraged.
Long story short: We ended up at different store on the other side of town and found a clerk who was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. We left that store with two bright and shiny smartphones and now we have the whole world in the palm of our hands!
So by now, you may be asking yourselves: "Isn't this a Social Security column? What does all this smartphone business have to do with my retirement benefits?" Well, my little episode with the unhelpful big-box store clerk got me to thinking about emails I sometimes get from readers telling me about unproductive and unhappy experiences they have had at their local Social Security offices. I am now much more able to empathize with these folks.
Before I go any further, I must point out that the majority of people visiting their local Social Security Administration offices get good service and have pleasant encounters with SSA representatives — just as the majority of customers visiting big-box electronics stores leave those establishments happy and satisfied. But sadly and realistically, in both cases, not always.
And of course, the likelihood of running into problems increases with the complexity of the situation. For example, if you go into a Social Security office to replace a lost Social Security card or even to file a simple claim for retirement benefits, the chances are very good that you will leave with a smile on your face. But if you have a more complex situation, especially if you want to employ one of the benefit-maximizing strategies so popular today (and that I've discussed umpteen times in this column), then you've got to cross your fingers and hope you get a representative with some experience who knows what he or she is doing.
Just as I had done a bit of research about smartphones before going into the big-box store, I am sure most people going to a Social Security office to file and suspend or file and restrict (two different maximizing plans) have also done research and have somewhat of an idea of what they want to do. But even with all that planning, smartphone buyers and Social Security applicants still need help to reach their goals.
I didn't get it at the big-box store. And sadly, sometimes prospective retirees don't get it at their Social Security office.
So if that happens to you, what can you do? If you sense that the Social Security representative initially assigned to you is not familiar with whatever you are trying to do, ask to speak to a supervisor.
Actually, this is advice I have always given. But after my big-box experience, I realize this is easier said than done. After all, I could have asked to speak to my unhelpful clerk's superior. But frankly, I would have felt uncomfortable doing that. That's why my wife and I left the store and we went to another place.
I realize that when it comes to dealing with your local Social Security office, you can't get up and leave and go to the competitor across town! (Although if you live in a bigger city with more than one Social Security office, you could go to another office in your area.)
I also realize that setting up your retirement benefits for the rest of your life is way more important than buying a smartphone. That's why even meek and mild-mannered me would have no problem asking to speak to a supervisor if I felt any bit of unease about the service or advice I was getting from a Social Security rep about my plans to maximize my Social Security benefits. So that's what you should do, too.
There is one other fallback position you have as a Social Security claimant that I don't have as a new smart phone user. If I learn I actually made a huge mistake buying the phone and service plan I did, to the best of my knowledge, I'm stuck with it — at least through the contract period. But if you learn you made a mistake involving your Social Security claim, you have a year to change your mind and withdraw your claim and start all over again with a new plan and hopefully with a better-informed SSA rep.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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