For many seniors living on a fixed income their Social Security check, each month means the difference between having enough food to eat and going hungry. Since many seniors rely on their Social Security benefits to pay for the necessities during retirement, it is important that retirees receive the correct amount. Yet far too often there are mistakes that can put seniors in a precarious financial situation. While getting anything corrected at the Social Security Department may seem futile, given the sheer size of the government agency, it is possible to get your Social Security benefits adjusted. (Read more, here: 10 Common Questions About Social Security.)

Figure Out the Payment Discrepancy

One of the most common errors Social Security recipients face is when additional earnings go unrecognized by Social Security. That means money that you should get benefits for isn’t being counted. (Read more, here: How Much Social Security Will You Get?) According to the Social Security Administration your earnings could be wrong if your former employer reported your earnings using the wrong name or Social Security number, if your employer reported your earnings incorrectly, if you got married or divorced and changed your name but didn’t report it to social security or you used the wrong social security number with that employer. The only way to spot a potential error is to check your social security benefits against your tax and work records, and that will require you to have a copy of your statement. If you are under the age of 60, you will get a statement when you turn 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60. After the age of 60 until you retire you will get a statement every year. You can also get an online copy at the Social Security Website.

Gather Your Documentation

The government isn’t going to increase your Social Security benefits on your word alone. A correction is going to require proof and a lot of it. According to the Social Security Administration if you spot an error on your benefits you have to find proof that you earned the money. That could be an old W-2 form, tax return, pay stub, your wage record or other documentation that proved you worked during the period you claim you are owed Social Security benefits. If you didn’t save any documentation or you can’t find it, the government advises seniors to try to remember all the details of their past employment including where they worked, the name of the employer, the dates the senior was employed, how much was earned and the name and social security number used at the time. (Read more, here: Types of Social Security Benefits.)

Contact the Social Security Department

Once you have your supporting evidence in hand, it is time to contact the Social Security Administration to start the process of getting the error fixed. When it comes to how you get in touch with the government agency you can call the main social security number at 1-800-772-1213. The case will then be sent to the local field office where it will be processed. Another option is to send a letter to your local social security office or where ever your monthly checks come from. Make sure to include copies of all your documentation. If you have the time, you can visit the local Social Security Office on your own to deliver your documentation and file your complaint. Again, make copies and hold on to the original documents.

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Can I Work While Collecting Social Security?

Sit Tight and Wait

One of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with the government is the time it takes to get anything done. And when it comes to getting Social Security benefits corrected expect to wait a long time. The process of getting your Social Security benefits fixed can take a long time depending on the discrepancy and the amount of documentation you provided. It may even take several months for the problem to be fixed which is why patience is required during the process. Frustrated calls to Social Security or visits to the local Social Security office aren’t going to yield you a speedier response. Sitting tight and waiting it out is all you can do.

Double Check the Correction Was Made

Mistakes can happen even more than one time so once you’ve gone through the Social Security correction process and the government has made the changes you have to confirm everything is now correct. After all, you don’t want to assume everything is ok and realize months down the road that it is still incorrect. The whole process would restart, and you may have to wait several more months to get everything rectified. Because of that, it is prudent to request a copy of your benefit statement after the correction was made to confirm it is indeed fixed.

The Bottom Line

For many seniors, Social Security benefits are their only income stream in retirement which is why getting the correct amount is critical. (Read more, here: 5 Tricks for Stretching Your Social Security Benefits.) While it may seem like an uphill battle getting a government agency the size of Social Security to correct an error, it’s not impossible. The key is to find the mistake, come up with supporting documentation, file your claim and wait it out.