You, or your child, are on Social Security, when out of the blue, you get a letter:
Your benefits will cease as of …
An over-payment was detected due to your failure to notify Social Security of your spouse’s income …
Since turning 18 years of age, we have determined that you are no longer disabled under our rules …
You may be thinking, “this is clearly a mistake;” “I go in every year with my spouse’s pay-stubs;” or “nothing has changed in my condition.”
So, you call Social Security to clear this up. Maybe you make an appointment to go in. Maybe you speak to an understanding soul who says it is all a mistake. You think to yourself:
The letter said I could appeal, but I don’t need to do that, I will just get it cleared up.
There is almost certainly a clock running.
In many circumstances, Social Security gives you 60 days to file your appeal after your receive a notice from them (Social Security assumes you receive the notice 5 days after the notice’s date).
In some circumstances, you only have 30 days to appeal; and you only have 10 days to request the benefits continue during your appeal if Social Security plans on stopping your benefits.
Ok, so there is a deadline. Who cares? I am just going to get this taken care of.
There is nothing wrong with trying to resolve a problem with Social Security informally. In fact, it is almost certain that if you are able to resolve the issue informally, this will be a lot faster that getting pursuing an appeal.
Here is the catch, if you do not resolve the problem before the appeal deadline, unless you qualify for an exception, you lose the right to challenge Social Security’s action through an appeal.
Sixty days may seem like a lot of time to get your problem solved, but it can quickly slip away:
- You schedule an appointment, but when you arrive at Social Security, they do not have you down for the appointment, or the person is running behind and cannot see you, or has left for the day, or is on vacation. You schedule another appointment, but there is another reason you cannot be seen.
- You speak with Person A at Social Security who is very understanding and genuinely wants to help you. However, weeks pass and you hear nothing from Social Security. You call, but you cannot reach Person A. You leave messages, but you never get called back. You call again and speak to Person B. Person B cannot find any record of your conversation with Person A and is unwilling to do what Person A promised.
I have seen too many cases where an individual was “strung along” by Social Security until the deadline passed and the appeal window closed.
I do not think Social Security is intentionally trying to string you along, mislead you, or take away your appeal rights. The vast majority of people working at Social Security are honestly trying their best. But, Social Security is greatly over-worked, under-staffed, and under-funded.
Delays happen, misunderstandings occur, instructions can be mis-communicated, misdirected, or simply buried under a pile of other tasks. All the while, ticktock, the appeal deadline rapidly approaches.
So, here is what it all boils down to:
- You can try to resolve your problem with Social Security informally, but always remember the deadline to file a formal appeal. If it turns out that you do have to file a formal appeal, make sure you get a receipt!
- No matter what anyone at Social Security tells you or promises you, it is not a done deal until you have it in writing. If you are told that the problem will be fixed and you will receive a letter “shortly.” Ask for a date that you should receive it by, and the direct extension number to the person you are working with. Make sure the date is before the deadline. If you do not receive the letter by the time promised, contact the Social Security worker immediately.
- If you cannot get written confirmation that the problem will be resolved, file the appeal.
Pursue every avenue you can to resolve a problem, but keep the appeal deadline in mind. The appeal is the only way to preserve your rights if you cannot resolve the problem informally with Social Security.