Why to Always Get an Answer From a Social Security Employee and Document It

Many people depend on Social Security benefits in order to continue to live comfortably in retirement, after the passing of a loved one, or when an unexpected injury or medical condition prevents them from working. As important as Social Security benefits are, they can be equally difficult for taxpayers to navigate. Individuals may have questions about when they should file and how to ensure that they will receive the maximum amount of benefits.

Many people’s first reaction is to immediately contact their financial advisors and accountants for advice regarding Social Security benefits, but this is not necessarily the best course of action based on the Code of Federal Regulations. Individuals who rely on third party advice run the risk of not being able to retroactively recover any missed benefits that were not claimed due to misinformation.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations and relevant case law, a taxpayer will only be able to recover retroactive benefits if the taxpayer can produce evidence that they relied on information given to them by a Social Security Administration (SSA) employee while that employee was acting in his or her official capacity as an SSA employee.

Per the guidelines, “misinformation” is “information which we consider to be incorrect, misleading, or incomplete in the view of the facts which you gave to the employee, or of which the employee was aware of or should have been aware, regarding your particular circumstances, or the particular circumstances of the person…”. The guidelines further state that “the misinformation must have been provided to you in response to a specific request by you to us [the Social Security Administration].

The preferred evidence to satisfy such a claim is written evidence, such as a notice, letter, or the Social Security Administration’s record of the phone call.

In the absence of such preferred evidence, the SSA will also consider statements from the individual that detail the “date and time of the alleged contact(s), how the contact was made, the reason(s) the contact was made, who gave the misinformation, the questions you asked and the facts you gave us, and the questions we asked and the information we gave you at the time of contact, and statements from others who were present when you were given the alleged misinformation”.

The SSA will not consider certain kinds of evidence to be satisfactory proof. Examples of this type of evidence include “general informational pamphlets that we issue to provide basic program information, general information that we review or prepare but which is disseminated by the media…, and information provided by other governmental agencies”.

The federal statutes do not allow for people to recover missed benefits if they relied on misinformation given by personal financial advisors, accountants, or any other sources.

Our Advice

Based on the above information, it seems that a taxpayer’s best course of action is to direct any questions to the Social Security Administration employees and keep a detailed record of any and all interactions. We recommend writing down the date of the inquiry, the name and title of the SSA employee, the specific questions asked, and the corresponding answers given.

By taking detailed notes on all correspondence, individuals essentially create their own insurance  in case the Social Security Administration provides any misinformation regarding eligibility.