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Claiming your social security benefits should be an easy process – but it isn’t.  What’s worse is that the people in charge of explaining your options to you do a horrible job according to the GAO (U.S. Government Accountability Office), potentially costing you thousands in benefits.

When You Claim Social Security Matters

Senate Special Committee on Aging committee co-chair Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) said at the hearing, “deciding at what age to begin claiming Social Security retirement benefits is the single most important financial decision that many Americans will ever make.” For many, she added, “a Social Security check that is at the maximum level for which the senior is eligible could make the difference between a secure retirement and living in poverty.”

Why You Won’t Get Good Advice from SSA

With 2,278 rules in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) handbook, exponentially more in the Programs Operating Manual, the undertrained, overworked staff at the Social Security are ill-equipped to give you the best advice when it comes to the decisions about your Social Security Benefits.

According to the September 2016 GAO report they “observed 30 in-person claims at SSA field offices and found that claimants were not consistently provided key information that people may need to make well-informed decisions.”

The online process wasn’t much better, failing to inform people that benefits are based on the highest 35 years of earning, or that life expectancy is an important consideration in deciding when to claim.

Plus, by law the SSA can’t advise you – but given what the GAO found, you can’t rely on them for accurate information either. 

Where to Get a Better Answer

First, don’t hold your breath waiting for a government solution.  Virginia Reno, the deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy at the Social Security Administration, told the Senate that the SSA is working with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team “to use insights from the behavioral sciences to improve how we explain options that individuals have” about claiming options.  

For the rest of us, trying to figure this out, there are solutions like the one created by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Social Security Expert and creator of http://www.maximizemysocialsecurity.com/.  His software offers users a low-cost solution to figure out what to tell Social Security about which benefits you want to take and when.

The bottom line: when you are ready to apply for Social Security, do your homework, and don’t rely on the government to tell you what your best options are.