That Social Security is a critical income source for scores of older Americans is not in doubt.
What is in doubt is some of the language used in the Social Security rulebook. If it’s been awhile since you’ve dipped your toe in these waters – or if you’ve never yet had the pleasure – let’s just say that Social Security’s written guidelines won’t win any awards for clarity, self-awareness or inspiration.
Think we’re being too harsh?
The authors of a new book, Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman, have spent years studying the Social Security system and have shared the best tips and clearest information about how to claim maximum benefits. In between the raindrops, they’ve called out a selection of verbatim language from the Social Security administration that is – if not head-scratchingly awkward, vague, or nonsensical – well, cause for pause.
Here are a few that caught our eye:
The Deck May Seem Slightly Stacked
“Even if we caused the (benefits) overpayment, you must show that you are without fault.”
You Can Actually Die Twice
Cash benefits for disabled workers end “the month before the month you die.”
Department of Circular Definition
“What does ‘actually paid’ mean? Actual payment occurs when you are actually paid.”
Catch the Address on That Coffin?
“The lump-sum payment cannot be paid on the earnings record of a worker who dies in or after the month we receive notice of deportation or removal.”
And Social Security Would Know This How?
“Third parties may assist a claimant when completing the (online) application, but the claimant must be present to select the ‘Submit Now’ button.”
We’ll Report That Income Right Away
“The illegality of an activity does not prevent it from being a trade or business. For example, professional gamblers, bookies, etc. may be engaged in a trade or business. If you’re in this category, you are considered self-employed and are required to report your income and pay self-employment taxes.”
The Fat Lady Never Sings I
“We may always make a new initial determination whenever a change occurs in the factual situation despite how much time elapses from the date of that change.”
The Fat Lady Never Sings II
“The fact that we determine that a claimant meets the requirements for entitlement does not preclude us from making another determination that the claimant no longer meets those requirements at some subsequent date.”
The Case of the Missing Corpse
“In a disappearance case where the body is not recovered, you must clearly prove the death of the missing person. Submit all available evidence, including: statements of persons having knowledge of the situation; (or) letters or notes left by the missing person that have a bearing on the case.”
The Department of Really, Really Helpful
Social Security representatives are instructed: “Do not attempt to explain the rationale for any particular operational guidelines, nor go to any great lengths to justify them.”
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