There’s no shortage of advice on filing for Social Security. From family members to your insurance agent, everyone has an opinion. But where do you turn once you’ve filed and now find yourself with Social Security problems?
I still remember Mr. Hall. He had big Social Security problems. He received an overpayment notice from the Social Security Administration alleging that he owed them thousands of dollars. He needed to respond within 60 days or his benefits would stop.
Related Article: Social Security Overpayment Letter? Here’s What To Do Next.
Not knowing where to turn, he called his CPA and asked if she could help. She told him that she could not, but gave him the name of a local attorney. When he called the attorney, he was referred to another attorney. Thankfully, the last attorney in the long line sent Mr. Hall to me.
Mr. Hall was frustrated! I can understand why. If you have Social Security problems, there aren’t many resources. In fact, there are only three places that can even try to help you.
1) Social Security Administration
The Social Security Administration may be the most obvious choice for assistance with Social Security problems, but it’s not that easy. Most of these “problems” are identified and handled by a reviewer in a regional service center (not your local Social Security office). These individuals are not accessible to the public, and their only form of communication is by letter.
I would recommend that your first step should be to try and speak to a Technical Expert at your local Social Security office. After several phone calls and visits, you may give up in frustration. While your experience may differ, I’ve found the Social Security technicians to be a mixed bag. Some know very little about the program but some have forgotten more than I’ll ever know. You may hit the Social Security jackpot and get a seasoned, helpful technician that understands your problem.
Some attorneys can help you, but they generally don’t. Why? The attorneys that work with Social Security benefits generally help individuals with disability claims. Most disability attorneys will be paid a fee only if they win your disability case. This fee to the attorney is paid only out of your past due benefits. If no past due benefits are awarded, the attorney will not receive a fee.
This compensation model removes any incentive to help individuals with Social Security problems where there are no past due benefits owed. However, it won’t hurt to ask! Some of the brightest minds in Social Security benefits are the veteran Social Security disability attorneys. You may ask them if they will take your case on an hourly basis instead of the contingency they are accustomed to.
3) Financial Planners
Financial planners are uniquely positioned to solve Social Security problems. Unfortunately, most don’t know how. They just simply do not understand the nuances of Social Security.
That is sad considering that 10,000 people per day are turning 65. Many of these need guidance on fixing issues with Social Security. The good news is, there are good financial planners out there that “get” Social Security. You just have to know how to sort through the unqualified planners to find them.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as inquiring as to their degree or designation. To my knowledge there are no legitimate classes or schools that can teach a financial planner everything they need to know to help clients with Social Security. For the most part, financial planners have to learn the Social Security rules on their own.
Since there are no real Social Security schools, the burden is on YOU to perform due diligence and sleuth your way to determining the planner’s expertise.
How are you supposed to do that? You need to ask lots of questions! But before you get to the heavy questions, here is the one question that will help you narrow the field.
How much does it cost?
If they offer this planning for no charge, don’t get close! It’s tempting I know. But if they offer Social Security consulting for “free” there will most likely be an investment pitch tied to it.
If the financial planner is able to pass the first test successfully, it’s time to find out how competent they are. You should ask them a starter question like, “What’s the best age to file?” If they give you some rule of thumb answer (e.g. 66 years old), they DON’T know Social Security beyond a surface level. Their answer to that question should be something like, “Every situation is different; your best age to file is based on a combination of personal factors.”
If they do OK with that question, here are a few more questions you can ask:
- How much will my benefit increase between age 62 and my full retirement age?
- What is a restricted application?
- What are the length of marriage rules?
- What is the earnings limitation?
- Can you explain provisional income?
These are VERY basic questions that any financial planner who dispenses Social Security advice will be comfortable and confident in answering immediately. There should be NO bumbling around or “let me check and call you back” answers on these simple questions.
If they do, keep looking!
If you need personal help, you can schedule a call with me on my contact page.