A sandwich board propped up on the grass with the words 'plan ahead' poorly spaced on the board.
November 19, 2014 | by Chris Stein, CFP®, Finance Instructor at Colorado State University
Social Security – Plan Ahead

When you're done reading, be sure to listen to our audio blog below!

Sometimes it pays to plan ahead and learn the rules before you file for Social Security.  The personnel at your local Social Security office are trained in the rules surrounding the benefits available to people who contact them.  These rules are very complicated and difficult to master.  However, the customer service agents at the SS office are supposed to be fully knowledgeable on what is and what is not allowed under the rules. In this post, we discuss a case where the Social Security office originally gave a person incorrect information about an available claiming option for Social Security benefits.

Claiming Strategy

This story involves a single, unmarried person who went to her local SS office and asked to file and suspend her benefits. She wanted the option of either delaying her benefits to receive a larger monthly benefit in the future OR receiving a lower monthly amount in addition to a lump sum payout.  In the past we have discussed the file and suspend strategy and the flexibility it allows.  It is most frequently a strategy deployed by married couples, but this strategy can also provide a bit of flexibility to single persons. The SS agent was not aware this option was available to unmarried individuals, provided incorrect information and almost didn’t let the woman file and suspend her claim. The woman stood firm and eventually convinced the SS agent that she was within her rights and could use this strategy.

Be Your Own Advocate

The rule here is to make sure you go into your SS office well prepared and armed with the correct information.  We suggest the following:

  1. Research your options ahead of time by using a competent professional or an online source to compare your options.
  2. Print out and take with you the SS rule that covers your requested claiming option.  This way you have the proof if you are told you cannot do what you want to do.
  3. If the agent tells you that your claim cannot be entered as you request, ask them to show you where in the rules what you are asking for is disallowed.
  4. Ask for a supervisor to clarify the issue if you are not getting satisfaction by the agent handling your case.

The bottom line message here is that knowledge is power.  It is important to get your SS claiming strategy right and you generally have only one chance to get it right.  Arm yourself with the information supporting your choice and stand firm.  You need to be your own advocate here.

For more information, please use the play button below to listen to the audio post.

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