Let’s be honest here: A lot of Americans weren’t thrilled about the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) customer service options even before COVID-19 created all kinds of headaches. But with wait times increasing and thousands of baby boomers retiring every day as part of the Great Resignation, the problem is only getting worse.
The good news is, there are steps you can take to improve your chances of getting your questions answered — and issues resolved — even as the SSA attempts to recover from the pandemic.
The agency was forced to temporarily shutter its 1,200 field offices in the wake of COVID-19, the AARP reported. Those offices might reopen this spring, the SSA said in a January press release. One result of the closings was that more people were forced to call the SSA rather than visit in person, leading to longer wait times and heightened frustration.
The SSA has also been hurt by budget cuts. As the AARP noted, since 2010 the SSA’s operating budget — set each year by Congress — has declined by 13% and its staff by 12%. Meanwhile, the number of Social Security beneficiaries has increased 22% over the same time period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
So what can you do if you are frustrated by SSA customer service? The AARP offers these tips:
Call during off-peak hours. Peak hours for the SSA’s national toll-free number are the first week of the month and when payments are made, typically on Wednesdays. You’re better off avoiding these times if you want to call.
Go online whenever possible. The SSA has attempted to make its website (ssa.gov) more comprehensive and user friendly during the pandemic, which means you can do more things online now than you could in the past. Before calling the agency, research your questions and issues on the website first to see if you can find answers there.
Use other resources. A good place to start is the AARP’s Social Security Resource Center, which features a comprehensive mix of calculators, tools and articles that can help you navigate your way through various Social Security and retirement issues. The site also lets you submit questions to experts. You should also search the web for other nonprofits and investment companies that offer useful information free of charge.
Hire an expert. If you have the budget, hiring a financial/retirement professional is one way to avoid frustrating calls or queries to the SSA. This can be particularly helpful when you are deciding when and how to file for retirement benefits. As the AARP notes, not thinking through the details can cost you thousands of dollars in lost benefits. The SSA can help you process your claims, but it’s not there to offer advice on when and how to file it.
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Frustrated With Social Security Customer Service? These Essential Tips From AARP Can Help