Every month, 61 million Americans collect some sort of Social Security benefit. So the process to file for and receive benefits must run like a well-oiled machine, right? Not necessarily. While the majority of Social Security beneficiaries enjoy a relatively simple and painless process when they apply for benefits, not everyone is quite so lucky. For some beneficiaries, the path to receiving monthly benefits may be littered with unexpected hurdles, pitfalls, and snags.
You don’t have all of your paperwork. Social Security does require a relatively long list of vital paperwork for signing up. For most beneficiaries, gathering these documents is simply a matter of gathering papers from a file cabinet or safe. However, some beneficiaries may either have no copy of their vital paperwork, or they may have some sort of problem with a piece of paperwork. If you are simply missing the necessary paperwork, Social Security can help you to obtain any information you might be having trouble finding. If you have a more complex problem like an incorrect birth certificate, Social Security may also be able to let you know what legal steps you must take—although it’s always wise to get a second opinion on such matters.
Your claiming situation is unusual. Most of the millions of beneficiaries who are processed through the Social Security Administration fit into one of several standard claiming situations. However, there are any number of less-than-standard situations that a beneficiary may find herself in, and that’s when things can get tricky. Any claiming situation that is not standard can become bogged down with miscommunication and misunderstanding. The rules governing Social Security are complex and not even lifelong staffers know all of the specific situations that could affect benefits, which can cause confusion and frustration for any beneficiary who does not fit into a neat claiming box. Once you have determined what rules govern your situation, be persistent in asking that those rules are followed. Bring a copy of the rule with you when you meet with a Social Security staffer, and be prepared to keep presenting it as you go up the chain of command if you’re not satisfied.
You receive conflicting information. Since you know that you’ll have some sort of unusual claiming situation, you take the bull by the horns and research your options. You do some preliminary digging on SSA.gov and call your local office to double check what you’ve found. The next time you call, however, you receive a different answer from a different staffer when you ask the exact same question. And the discrepancy is not a minor one—it’s going to cost you big money. There is no way to prove that the first staffer told you something different, and you are going to have to pay for someone’s mistake. While actually recording your conversations may or may not be feasible, it is paramount that you take notes of your conversations so that you have a record of the information you receive. In particular, you will want to note the date and time of the conversation, the name of the staffer you speak to, the specific aspect of Social Security law that governs your situation, the next steps advised by the staffer, and what potential fines, fees, or problems may arise from either taking or not taking those steps.
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