7 Ways To Navigate Social Security Without Customer Service

Can you contact Social Security without getting a headache?
Updated May 8, 2024
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Despite 10,000 boomers retiring each day, the Social Security Administration budget and workforce continue to shrink. Their problems started with budget ceilings in 2011 and were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation.

We now have a real mess on our hands. Wait times are at an all-time high at 40-plus minutes for a phone call and months for disability approvals.

While the baby boom generation is doing the right things to prepare for retirement, Social Security problems are beyond their control.

Here’s how you can navigate Social Security despite their poor customer service.

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Call the toll-free number 1-800-772-1213

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Sometimes you might have to bite the bullet and call to get help directly from Social Security. 

Their phone lines are staffed by live agents from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time on weekdays except for federal holidays. But be prepared to wait on hold. In recent years, the average wait time has jumped to 40 minutes.

They do have an automated phone system available 24/7 that can help you with things like requesting a benefit verification letter or requesting a claim status.

If you must call, try to call during their least busy times:

  • Between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. local time
  • Between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time
  • Wednesday to Friday
  • Near the end of the month

Call your local office

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You might have better luck and shorter wait times if you contact your local field office. Offices are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Enter your ZIP code into the SSA’s field office locator to find the nearest office.

Some people report that calling their local office will actually get faster service, especially when you are trying to determine claim status or disability decisions.

Use the website

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The Social Security website has expanded its service offerings in recent years, probably to help combat the strain caused by budget and staffing issues.

To get started, you will need to create an online account. Once you’ve created an account, you will be able to do everything from applying for Medicare to submitting an appeal.

It’s recommended that you use the website as much as possible to avoid having to interact directly with Social Security customer service.

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Make an appointment

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You can make an appointment at your local office by scheduling it online or by calling your local office. Once there, you can use the Mobile Check-In Express to monitor your appointment status by scanning the QR code in the office.

This app uses your cell phone location service to make sure you are in the office when your number is called. It will alert you when it’s your turn and where to go for your appointment.

Walk in to a field office

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Be advised that if you walk into a field office without an appointment, you may be waiting awhile. 

The SSA warns that their offices are typically busiest first thing in the morning, early in the week, and during the early part of the month. Planning your visit around those times may help reduce your wait.

Redditors recommend getting to the field office 30 to 60 minutes before it opens for the best chance to get same-day service.

Email your questions

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The Social Security Administration encourages people to use its website and offers a long list of frequently asked questions to answer questions. But sometimes, you have an inquiry that falls outside of those common questions.

You may email the SSA with your specific questions, but it must meet certain criteria. The office cannot answer emails about your personal situation, so make sure your question doesn’t include your personal information or Social Security number.

There is no listed turnaround time for email responses, but the form does warn that it might take awhile. Only use this option when your question is not urgent and not personal.

Hire an advisor

zinkevych/Adobe optimistic senior couple

The Social Security Administration is there to process your claims, but the agency doesn’t generally advise on the best way to use your benefits. Hiring an SSA advisor is similar to hiring a tax professional.

An SSA advisor can help you understand how to get the most out of your benefits. The SSA does allow you to have a representative, but you must fill out form SA-1696 — Claimant’s Appointment of a Representative — so they can legally speak on your behalf.

A typical fee for hiring a SSA advisor is between $650 and $900. However, working with a professional could mean thousands more dollars in your pocket.

Bottom line

Lane Erickson/Adobe social security cards

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts, the SSA website has greatly expanded its online services, so you might never have to interact with its poor customer service.

If you decide to retire early, you can postpone dealing with the Social Security Administration. Hopefully, by then, this customer service nightmare will be over.

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Author Details

Holly Humbert Holly is a writer who recognizes that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to personal finance. She is passionate about entrepreneurship, women in business, and financial literacy. With more than four years of experience, her work has been featured on MarketWatch and The Ways to Wealth.

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