Friday, April 8, 2016

Confusion in the Ranks

"The door is closing on a Social Security strategy for boomers" read the headline.  I'm not fond of scare tactics, but Social Security is on my near-term horizon and I am woefully ignorant of the procedures.  Gail MarksJarvis's opening sentence just reinforced my angst.

If you are married (yes), and you or your spouse will soon be 66 years old (yes), you might be able to increase your Social Security by thousands of dollars (YES!!), but there's a catch (of course)

Reading that my best options may be lying on the other side of that closed door led me to read the two columns of dense prose which followed.  Newspapers may be aimed at a 6th grade reading level, but neither my college degree, nor TBG's, not my Masters' nor his, not his law degree nor my years contending with bureaucracy as a hospital social worker and an advocate for the developmentally disabled were of any help.  The article was unfathomable.

I should have realized that a woman who puts a capital letter in the middle of her last name might have trouble being clear; she's obviously making up her own grammatical rules. It is true that the subject matter is arcane; MarksJarvis quotes a Colorado financial planner's dismal assessment of the situation:

"It's hard for a normal person to figure this out and it's unfair to send a person to battle the bureaucracy"

Still, the last paragraph opens with such confusion that I nearly cried:

Rather than dealing with field offices, she said people should do file and suspend and a restricted application on the website.

People..... does that mean the already over 65 higher wage earner or the soon to be old spouse?  TBG doesn't remember applying for Social Security, but I think it just happened without his being proactive.  We elected to defer his benefits; I know that because no checks are deposited every month. 

But, does that mean he has already done file and suspend?   Or am I the person who should file and suspend?  It seems as if I should file and receive, but there's no link to that on

I searched for file and suspend on the website, but I got bored reading about all the rules they've suspended and all the actions which were filed on issues vaguely related but ultimately not relevant to my question. None of the verbiage was helpful.

I took a moment and reflected on the fact that government communications were supposed to be written in plain English.  Googling making govt documents understandable led to a plethora of pdf's advising Health and Human Services employees and CDC employees and SEC employees on the techniques to make the esoteric accessible.  None of that seems to have gotten down to the Social Security Administration, however.

That's very strange.  I found G'ma's Medicare summaries to be clear, concise, and easy to use when comparing their records with the bills I saved.  The reports came once a quarter and took no more than 15 minutes to reconcile with the information I had at hand.  When there was a discrepancy, a clearly spelled out procedure led to a quick and satisfactory resolution.  Silly me, I expected the same when it came time for me to take some money out of the system myself.

Silly, perhaps, but undaunted nonetheless.  I called TBG's Medicare guru for advice.  It wasn't really a Medicare question, but she was as close to the source as I could get... without going to the office.  
After getting complaints from advisers and individuals throughout the US, the Social Security administration issued a statement Feb. 24 to better inform its agents.
Apparently, the agents have been sending people away, telling them that they are not eligible. Unwilling to spend any time waiting in line for someone who might not know the answer, I'm taking a preliminary step.  The receptionist in the guru's office was understanding and laughing as she took my phone number; the guru had just done this for herself, so she was the expert in the office.

Should it really be this complicated?  And if it is too complicated for me, with my fancy education and all the technology and personal connections anyone might need to wade through the morass, how hard is it for someone without those resources?

I don't think that Big Government is a bad thing, but incomprehensible government is another story, entirely.  The deadline to apply for spousal benefits without compromising the higher earning spouse's ability to grow his account over time is April 29, 2016.  I'll write before then ... once the guru helps me to figure it all out.


  1. When it came time for us to file for medicare, which we had to do at 65 or risk losing it, I found it totally confusing. It should not be that way and when I am struggling to understand it, how would it be for someone with mild senility! Aren't they supposed to make it easier on us elders? lol

  2. Terry took his social security at 62 so the medicare was a piece of cake when he turned 65. It just fell into place.

    So far, from all I've been able to determine, the whole social security process has been easy as he did it all online with one phone call placed to him to verify information. The money is automatically deposited the 2nd Wednesday of each month.

    It is best if one can wait until 70 to collect, but our financial situation was not that good so the extra Social Security money is nice to have.

  3. Ugh! This makes my head hurt! I don't want to think about this 'cause I'm there in another 20 years. Why does this all have to be so freakin' complicated? It's almost as if they do it on purpose so someone has a job just to make sure it all works or at least the little parts mesh together and keep people employed.

    Do keep us posted.

    Megan xxx

  4. I'll look forward to what you find out. I'm trying to track down the magic answer myself! I'll let you know what I find out. It certainly shouldn't be this hard.


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