In Parts 1 and 2 I began the story of my attempt to take my spousal benefits while leaving each of our personal retirement benefits untouched. Alas, the saga continues.
I stewed about it all morning long, worrying about the email I'd write, feeling lazy about getting dressed and up and out, stressed about long lines and incompetence to start my day. But TBG was at spin class and no one was around for breakfast so, one quick shower later, I was in The Uvula, driving to the no-man's land between the developed outskirts and downtown.
The Social Seurity Office is on a through-street; I've never stopped at anything along that corridor before. But there I was, 10 people back in a line in the sunshine, 15 minutes after the doors had opened. I had a book so I was fine, unlike the woman behind me who told everyone and anyone who would listen that "there were no such lines in Upstate New York." I shook my head. Who goes to a government agency without distractions?
The line moved quickly; it ended just beyond the front door at a security check point. The guard searched my bag for weaponry, found only paperwork and credit cards, and then passed me on to the greeter. Why was I there? He determined that I needed to see an agent, he directed me to the computer kiosk, clicked on English (Spanish, Korean and Somali were the other choices), and turned away so that I could enter my social security number unobserved. I took my numbered ticket and I sat.
The waiting room was, as always, a melting pot snapshot of Americana. The overweight and the undernourished, the well-dressed and the down-at-the-heels, the mothers and babies and the elderly leaning on caregivers, we filled the surprisingly comfortable metal benches. Three corridors of cubicles stretched before us and as tickets were called clients slowly made their way down the dimly lit hallways.
Less than a chapter into The Summer Before the War F43 showed up on the screen and blared over the intercom and I was one of those being watched as I galumphed to my helper. Thirty-something, wearing braces on his teeth and a polo shirt and jeans on his body, he listened attentively and then began to tell me all the places I'd gone wrong.
The article itself was misleading, he said. We both had to be 66. TBG had to apply for and then suspend his benefits. I couldn't do it.
Although everything he said was contradicted by the article, I had to act rather than argue. Apparently, it is not illegal to collect benefits when one is 64.5 years old. Who knew? The Social Security Administration was preparing my benefit check as I sat in the chair; I had to withdraw my application if I didn't want to receive the smallest benefit possible.
Dutifully, I filled out the paperwork.
Then, he explained the best way to maximize our benefits going forward. Though he couldn't access TBG's information "unless he is sitting right there (pointing to the chair beside me) and answering these questions himself," my agent was able to give me a timeline for us to follow.
The whole thing was strange; I couldn't argue because my facts came from the newspaper and not an official Social Security document. There was time pressure to act, because my benefits would begin if I did nothing. But I can't get the money I was counting on, and that has left me feeling vaguely unsettled.
I'm going to try to find the relevant regulations. I'm going to share my story with the author of the original article and see what she has to say. And, of course, I'll keep you all posted.