When it comes to Social Security questions, there are two problems: getting them answered accurately and getting them answered at all.
“I get the most crazy emails,” says Laurence Kotlikoff, author of "Get What’s Yours: The Secrets To Maxing Out Your Social Security." People constantly contact him upset about misinformation they got directly from the Social Security Administration itself.
But you might be lucky just to get the bad advice in the first place. Staff and budget cuts at Social Security are hitting at the same time boomers are showing up to collect.
The strain is showing. "In the last two years, I’ve heard more horror stories than I did during the prior 20 years," said Andy Landis, author of "Social Security, The Inside Story."
For instance, a 60-year old widower recently emailed Kotlikoff to say he was told he couldn’t file for his widower benefits because he was working. In fact, says Kotlikoff, he has the right to file. How much his earnings will impact his benefits is another question entirely.
Then there was the 62-year-old woman, a divorcee, who called to find out about her divorcee spouse benefit. She was told the SSA couldn’t tell her.
"That’s outrageous!," Kotlikoff says. "I told her to go into a Social Security office with a marriage certificate and a divorce certificate and talk to a technical expert."
So, what can you do to stem your frustration?
Start on the website. Your first stop should be at SSA.gov. Both Landis and Kotlikoff note that there is a lot of helpful information on the Social Security’s own website, before you even reach for the phone.
Call after Tuesday. The SSA itself says wait times are longer on Monday and Tuesday. The first week of each month is notoriously tough, said Landis, so call after then.
Make an appointment. It can be helpful to arrange for a face-to-face meeting at a local Social Security office. But be prepared to wait a long time unless you make a reservation.
Be ready to “office shop.” If you find the help at the office in your town lacking, Kotlikoff recommends trying the office in the next town over.
Ask to speak to a “technical expert.” It's just like asking to speaking to a supervisor when you call your credit card or cable company. These folks are higher up on the SSA food chain and often worth waiting for.