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Social Security: Why Thousands of Spouses Aren't Getting Their Full Benefits

Social Security is a complex program, making its benefits hard to understand. In fact, the rules are so complicated that the Social Security Administration recently found that its own staff weren't giving recipients all the benefits to which they were entitled.

In the following video, Dan Caplinger, The Motley Fool's director of investment planning, runs through the SSA's audit, which found that thousands of spouses weren't informed when they would have qualified for higher benefits based on their own work history compared to the spousal benefits they were claiming. Dan notes that although the SSA had a notification process for widowed spouses, it didn't follow the same process for couples in which both spouses were still alive. With 26,000 spouses missing out on $195 million in benefits, the issue was big enough to drive change at the SSA. Yet Dan points out that you really have to look out for your own benefits to make sure you get what you deserve.

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Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (46)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 01, 2014, at 2:22 PM, piasabird wrote:

    Maybe SSN officials are told not to help people apply for the maximum benefits possible. Here is where talking to a trained investment counselor or some other kind of professional might help.

  • Report this Comment On April 01, 2014, at 7:49 PM, exparte5 wrote:

    What you said is true, if and only if, the benefit based on your own work history is greater than the spouses benefit based on your spouse's work history.

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2014, at 3:01 PM, Carrot1530 wrote:

    Why should SS notify people, it's the peoples responsibility to know what they are entitled to. Once again people think the Government should hold their hand instead of being responsible for their own actions.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2014, at 4:41 PM, Cri600 wrote:

    The issue is that the Social Security's personnel OUGHT to know what options to show people, so that they can make fully informed decisions. After 2 years of helping a family member through the nightmare of social security disability benefits, I can affirm that the personnel don't understand the programs they are processing info for. The ignorance is ridiculous, along with the "I couldn't care less about your concerns" (that's the euphemistic interpretation) attitude. I found out that I had to come to the office armed with govt publications highlighted to get benefits that were available....and then had to camp out and refuse to leave until a person could confirm that everything was set up correctly. Multiple answers (delivered emphatically) to the same question was the norm.

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Dan Caplinger
TMFGalagan

Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on Fool.com. With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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