4 traps to avoid when filing for benefits

4 traps to avoid when filing for benefits

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If you’re among the millions of Americans who plan to apply for retirement, spouse or disability benefits from Social Security this year it might be wise to review all that could go wrong.

What could go wrong, you wonder? After all, you simply go online to apply, or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office.

Simple enough?

If only. Here are some of the major traps awaiting you.

Social Security Administration customer service representatives are not advisers: You might think that the Social Security Administration customer service representative you’re speaking with is going to help you determine the best filing strategy. Not so, says Heather Schreiber, founder of HLS Retirement Consulting.

The Social Security Policy Operations Manual System (POMS, for short) specifically states that customer service representatives may “provide enough information so that claimants can make informed decisions, but do not give advice.”

A person filling out a Social Security benefits application form.

“So, it pays to be well-informed of your options when making this important claiming decision,” says Schreiber.

For example, she says, many claimants are unaware that if they have not yet filed for their retirement benefit and suffer the loss of a spouse, they may leverage their own retirement benefit with the survivors benefit by claiming the smaller one first and later claiming the larger one. “Absent the right information, they may assume that they should just file for both benefits simultaneously and take the higher payment,” says Schreiber.

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