TOM MARGENAU | SOCIAL SECURITY AND YOU: Where to go for social security help | lifestyles – Community News
Social Security

TOM MARGENAU | SOCIAL SECURITY AND YOU: Where to go for social security help | lifestyles

My wife has a small plaque on the wall of her studio.

She is a fiber artist who creates quilted landscapes and something called ‘temari’, decorative Japanese thread balls. She sells her wares at a local art gallery. To see her work, visit

Anyway, that plaque, which she got when we both retired in 2005, reads: ‘Help me! My husband is retired and he has no hobby!”

I thought of that plaque when I opened my email inbox today. There were dozens of letters from readers of my column. I probably get hundreds of emails every week from all over the country. And for the most part, I’m not complaining – and my wife rejoices. Answering those emails has become my hobby. It keeps me out of her hair and out… well, never mind. But you know what I mean. My wife can work on her crafts upstairs in peace, while I work on my “hobby” downstairs. (That’s part of the secret to a 47-year marriage!)

You’ll notice I said I’m not complaining “for the most part”. I like to help people understand social security rules and regulations. And I’m happy to answer their general questions about the program. But honestly, I’m perplexed when people come to me with questions or problems that I just can’t help them with.

For example, one of the emails I got today went like this: “I’m getting a little Social Security check and my husband’s benefit is much bigger. How do I find out if I can get additional benefits on his state?” Well, the obvious answer (obvious to me anyway) is to contact the Social Security Administration. Just call them on their toll free number 🙂 800) 772-1213.

Another email said: “I’m about to turn 62 and I want to apply for my Social Security. Can you help me with this?” Well, no I can’t. Again, you need to call SSA at (800) 772-1213. Or better yet, file a complaint online at their website:

Still other readers send me LONG emails that I just don’t have time to decipher because of the volume of mail I receive. These long emails usually come in two forms.

One kind comes from readers seeking financial advice. They give me their full work history, marriage history, income history, and a spouse’s work and income history. They often tell me about all their assets and debts. They ask me to help them create retirement plans and tell them when to apply for Social Security.

While I appreciate their thoroughness, I really only have time to scan their email quickly, and I almost always tell them, “I’m not a financial planner. I’m just an old retired social security man.

As such, I can only explain the rules of Social Security. And I just can’t do that in a quick email. So I highly recommend that you spend $10 and get my little Social Security guide called “Social Security – Simple and Smart”. One of the chapters in that book explains when and how to apply for Social Security. I think it will answer all your questions.”

The other kind of long emails I get from readers are those that rant and cheer about an alleged injustice to the Social Security system. (I got one this week that was three pages long!) There’s really nothing I can do to help these people other than give them a chance to vent.

Still other readers send me emails complaining about the service they have received, or are trying to get, from the Social Security Administration. Sometimes they tell me they can’t reach SSA’s toll-free service line (800-772-1213). Or they spoke to someone from SSA and were not happy with the answer they got. Or they try to solve a problem with their benefits, and they think the solution is taking too long. They usually ask me to intervene or “do something” to solve their problem.

But honestly, I can’t do anything in these situations. In regards to getting help with the 800 number, I can only suggest patience. You may have to be on hold for a while, but eventually someone picks up the phone. In regards to intervening in their case, these people should know that I have been retired from the agency for 16 years and I have absolutely no influence over anyone there.

I just can’t pick up the phone, call an SSA official, and say, “Fix this guy’s problem now!” What I usually do is suggest that they ask to speak to a supervisor or manager at their local Social Security office.

And speaking of dealing with someone at the local office, I always recommend that you do. Some people think they’re smart by “going to the top”—trying to settle someone at one of SSA’s regional offices or even their headquarters complex in Baltimore, Maryland. That’s a big waste of time. You are always better off with local staff.

To illustrate what I mean, I want to share this with you. I worked for many years at the SSA headquarters outside of Baltimore. About 10,000 people were working. And each of those people had some sort of administrative task to do. They were not there to help individual Social Security recipients. (Again, that’s what the local Social Security offices are for.) Still, every day people would walk into the corporate headquarters building—some of them have traveled across the country to do so—demanding to speak to “someone at the top about my problem. ”

These people were led to a small office, where I assume they thought they were talking to the main hub of headquarters. In reality, this office was staffed by representatives from the Randallstown, Maryland, Social Security Office—the closest field office to SSA headquarters.

If that Randallstown representative couldn’t handle the situation, the matter was always referred back to the local office in the town where the visitor lived—the place the person should have gone in the first place to resolve the issue. (I realize things are different for now with many offices partially closed due to COVID-19. So consider this long-term advice as the world returns to normal.)

Or if you simply cannot get help from the staff or management at your local office, I suggest you contact your local convention representative. They always employ someone who handles Social Security issues.

In short, come to me if you have general questions about social security or if you can briefly present your own personal problem. (Like I said, it would really help if you read my book first.)

But if you’ve done business with SSA, you should call them at (800) 772-1213 or go online at And if you have a problem, ask to speak to a manager, or contact your local congressman.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has a book with all the answers. It’s called ‘Social Security – Simple and Smart’. You can find the book at Or search for it on Amazon or other bookstores.