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How to fix Social Security’s error

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Sometimes Social Security makes mistakes. Getting this giant agency to acknowledge an error and fix it isn’t a slam dunk, but it can be done.

Errors are rare, says Dorothy Cullum, a former management analyst for the Social Security Administration and a current adviser to the consultancy firm Social Security Solutions. “But on occasion, situations arise when cases are processed manually. Anytime a person is involved, there’s always the chance of human error…,” Cullum says.

First determine what you think is wrong. Cullum says it is not unusual for people to have additional earnings for which they are not receiving credit, usually because the earnings were originally reported incorrectly by an employer.

If that is your problem, start by checking your Social Security earnings record against your personal record. You can get a copy of your earnings record by going to your My Social Security account. If you don’t already have a My Social Security account, the registration process is fairly simple and access for most people is immediate.

Documentation helps your case

If anything seems amiss, you’ll need to locate documents that prove the error — tax forms, W-2 forms or even pay slips. If you can’t find these, Social Security says to write down the name and address of your employer, the dates you worked there, how much you earned and the name and Social Security number you were using while you were employed, and the agency will use this information to investigate the problem.

If you think your earnings record is correct, but Social Security calculated your benefit incorrectly, you can request what Social Security calls a “recomputation” of your benefit. Cullum says the process of calculating benefits is highly automated, so if the right information went into the system, the resulting calculation will almost certainly be correct. But she acknowledges that once in awhile, mistakes happen.

3 ways to start the process

You can contact Social Security to get the ball rolling on resolving a problem by:

  • Calling (800) 772-1213. The agent will forward the request to the local field office to process. This line is answered from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Be patient; wait times can be long. Calling early in the morning or late in the afternoon, late in the week, or late in the month can expedite the process.
  • Writing a letter to the local field office or to the processing center where your account is handled. Include copies of all written proof. Don’t send anything original.
  • Going into the local Social Security office. Take two sets of your proof so you can leave a copy with the agent.

In any case, don’t expect fast turnaround. “With the recently reported staff shortages, these requests are not going to be very high on the priority list,” Cullum says. “The highest priority is given to processing initial claims for benefits and ensuring that everyone who is supposed to receive a check is receiving one. These special requests and exceptions are not common and typically fall to the bottom of the list.”

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