Desperate Seniors

By Tom Margenau

May 6, 2020 6 min read

I get a lot of emails from confused and maybe lonely people who are writing to me mostly out of desperation. They are almost always from older senior citizens, folks in their 80s and beyond, who are looking for more money from Social Security. These emails are especially sad because there is usually nothing I can do for the questioners other than say, "Sorry, but there is really nothing I can do." Many times, especially when they have questions about their benefit amounts, I refer them to the Social Security Administration. After all, I am just one old retired guy sitting in his basement at a computer without access to anyone's Social Security records. On the other hand, the SSA has 62,000 trained employees who have all of your Social Security files at their fingertips. Almost always, when you have a question about your Social Security payments, you are better off going to the SSA than coming to me.

Here are some examples of the kinds of emails I am talking about.

Q: I am 84. I started taking my Social Security at 62. I have always been convinced I am not being paid correctly. I think I should be getting more. What can you do to help me?

A: Sorry, I can't do anything other than to tell you that it is extremely likely you are being paid the correct amount. The Social Security Administration has an exemplary track record of paying people exactly what they are due. Besides, if you really thought you were being paid incorrectly, the time to do something about it was when your benefits first started. You would have had 60 days to file an appeal of your benefit rate. But now, 22 years later, there is nothing you can do but relax and just accept the very likely fact that you are getting exactly what you are due.

Q: I am 80. I am getting my own Social Security. I was married to a gentleman many years ago for about 20 years before we got a divorce. Do you think I am due anything on his record?

A: I'm sorry, but I really don't have any idea. You need to call Social Security at 800-772-1213 and ask them. It would obviously help if you have your ex-husband's Social Security number. But even if you don't, with some other identifying information you probably can provide, they should be able to find his records.

I can give you a few bits of general information. If your ex is still alive, you'd be due an amount anywhere between one-third and one-half of his benefit rate (depending on factors I don't know about your case), but only to the extent it exceeds what you are already getting on your own Social Security account. If your ex is dead, you could get your benefit supplemented up to 100% of his rate.

Q: I am 75. My husband is 76. He gets $1,850 per month. I only get $740. I thought I was supposed to get half of his. What's wrong?

A: There probably is nothing wrong. I'm guessing you started your benefits when you were 62 years old. If you did that, then your spousal rate is closer to one-third of his benefit than one-half. And one-third of his benefit is about $610, so your own $740 rate exceeds that. If you did wait until age 66 to start your benefits, then I can't explain why you are not getting more money. If that is the case, you should call Social Security at 800-772-1213,

Q: I am 81. When my husband died last year, they didn't give me any of his Social Security. Can you tell me why not?

A: Without having any access to your Social Security records, I can't tell you why you aren't getting widows benefits. But here are some guesses.

Is your own Social Security benefit rate higher? If it is, then you aren't due any widows benefit because you are already getting more money on your own account.

Or are you getting a pension from a job that was not covered by Social Security? Like maybe a teacher's pension? If you are, then an amount equal to two-thirds of that pension must be used to offset any Social Security widows benefits you might be due.

If neither of those situations applies to you, then I don't know why you are not getting widows benefits. Call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to find out.

Q: I'm 82 years old and have been getting Social Security for 20 years. I keep hearing that there is some kind of Social Security "do-over" for old folks like me. Is that true?

A: The only "do-over" I can think of is a rule that lets people withdraw their Social Security claim and start over with a new one, but only if they do so within 12 months of filing their original claim. But for anyone beyond that one-year time frame (and you are WAY beyond it) — sorry, but no "do-overs."

Q: I need help with my Medicare. What can you do?

A: What I can do is steer you in the right direction. I'm a Social Security expert, not a Medicare expert. You need to talk to one. They are called State Health Insurance Program counselors, or SHIPs. To find the SHIP nearest you, go to the Medicare website, and pull down the menu for your state under "Find local help." Then click on "SHIP." If you live in California, they are called HICAP counselors, which stands for Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program.

Q: Someone told me you are the "go-to guy" if we want to get an increase in our Social Security. My husband and I are in our 80s and would like to get more money.

A: I'm sometimes my wife's "go-to guy" when she wants little jobs done around the house. But when it comes to getting more from Social Security, I'm just not your guy. In fact, no one is. I'm sure you are getting all you are due from the system.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at [email protected] 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

Photo credit: FirmBee at Pixabay

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