Did you know that more than 2,700 rules govern your Social Security benefits? Luckily, a significant number of those rules probably don’t apply to you—but how do you have a chance of interpreting all these rules on your own when there are thousands of explanations in the agency’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS)?
The easy answer is to contact the Social Security Administration (SSA). Yes, we know what sort of negative connotations the idea of communicating with a government agency conjures up. Thankfully, there are three ways to contact Social Security to get info and solve issues—online, by phone, and in person.
- If you have a question, you can contact the Social Security Administration in three ways: online, by phone, and in person.
- The Social Security website is the best option as it offers nearly all of the services you need.
- Social Security personnel can explain rules and analyze your eligibility for benefits, but don't expect them to help you strategize about the best ways to collect your benefits.
- Since Social Security doesn’t publish the phone numbers of most local offices, you may have to call the main number at 1-800-772-1213.
- Visiting a Social Security office should be a last resort, as there are fewer workers for an increasing number of applicants.
The SSA has warned that scammers are at work, sending fraudulent letters through the mail that threaten suspension of Social Security benefits. Recipients are directed to call a number that may mislead beneficiaries to provide personal information or payment via gift cards and other schemes. If you think you have been a victim of fraud you can submit a report online via the SSA.
Contacting Social Security Online
Unlike some other government websites (the IRS, for one), the Social Security website is easy to use for those who speak English and Spanish, and it offers nearly all of the services you need. The website does also offer some information in other languages online, including Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Vietnamese.
You can view a list of the online services by visiting the online services section of the website. You’ll notice that you can apply for benefits, get a copy of your statement, appeal a decision by Social Security officials, and get estimates of your future benefits and Medicare services, among other things.
Just like the SSA’s offices, the website has certain hours of operation during which you can conduct business. But take heart: If not 24/7, the hours are pretty extensive unless you’re trying to apply for benefits between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, before 5:00 a.m. or after 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, or before 8:00 a.m. or after 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, the operational hours probably won’t affect you.
Most experts say to avoid visiting a Social Security office—another reason why it's a good idea to start with the online services section of the SSA's website.
Contacting Social Security by Phone
The website is a great place to start, but sometimes the information provided may not seem to address your situation or answer your particular question. So your next step might be to call. Since Social Security doesn’t publish the phone numbers of most local offices, you likely have to call the main number at 1-800-772-1213. Even if you have the number of your local office, you'll probably want to start with the SSA’s automated system.
If you call, you can perform many services through the automated system, including requesting a benefit verification letter and/or statement of your benefits, inquiring about the status of a claim, applying for a replacement card, finding the address of your local office, and conducting some business related to Medicare.
If the automated system isn’t enough, you can speak to a representative between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Social Security Administration provides interpreters free of charge. You can call 800-772-1213 to speak with an interpreter who speaks Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, or Vietnamese. You can also schedule in-person appointments, during which time the Social Security Administration office will arrange for an interpreter.
Contacting Social Security in Person
When Social Security offices are fully reopened, if you can’t resolve your problem or find the information you need on the website or over the phone, you can go to one of the field offices (the website offers a Social Security Office Locator, which works via zip code). In some cases—if you need to request a Social Security card or update certain kinds of personal information—you may have to visit an office.
But be forewarned: It probably won’t be fun. You can schedule an appointment, though it could take weeks or more than a month to get one. Just heading to the office is an option, but you’ll probably wait more than a couple of hours to be seen. Some offices report lines out the door.
Staffing is an issue. Due to budget cuts to the SSA, there are fewer workers for an increasing number of applicants. And don’t expect them to take an in-depth look at your situation. SSA employees don't have the training or expertise to help you maximize your benefits the way a financial planner can. If you don't have a financial planner or other professional who can help you make the right claiming choices, there are Social Security calculators that can help. The SSA also offers a number of online tools.
Some Social Security experts advise visiting multiple field offices in order to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your benefits. One worker may misinterpret the rules and deny you benefits or other privileges for which you’re eligible, so seeking multiple benefit estimates can help you find the best deal—kind of like shopping for a new car.
The number of Social Security field offices nationwide.
The Bottom Line
Most experts advise avoiding the Social Security office as much as you can. Treat that option as a last resort, even when the pandemic ends. The website allows you to do just about everything, and if you're looking for good strategies on how to maximize your benefits, the local Social Security Administration office can’t help you anyway. Instead, try an online benefits calculator, the SSA's online tools, or consult with a financial planner, estate-planning attorney, or Social Security expert who can help you figure out the best way to structure and maximize your benefits.