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Social Security and You: Desperate Seniors

Tom Margenau on

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?

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