Why Did Social Security Process My Online Application For Spousal Benefits As An Application For Retirement Benefits?

Sep 8 2019 - 12:24pm


I meet requirements for filling a restricted application for spousal benefits only since I was born I 1951 and my wife was born in 1952. Following my wife’s online application, I prepared my online application for spousal benefits. I thought I did everything to make my intention clear: 1) I answered yes to the question “If eligible for both retirement and spouses’ benefits, delay receipt of retirement benefits 2) I included explicit language in the Remarks sections as follows: “I wish to exclude retirement benefits from the scope of this application. I am filing a restricted application for spousal benefits only. I am not applying for retirement benefits on my own work record. I wish to earn delayed retirement credits.” 3) In the marriage section of the application I provided my wife’s name and social security number.

Unfortunately, I received a vague suspicious letter saying Social Security needed more information from me. After confirming that this letter was legit, I called the number provided and the rep said they did not know what the issue was, though they made it sound like a security concern, and said that that I need to go to the Social Security office with my ID to deal with it. I went to the local office and presented the letter to the rep, but the rep never specifically told me why my application was flagged. The rep gave me a form and said I need to make a statement that I had applied online for my social security retirement benefits. At this point the rep was making it sound like a security concern, however, based on what I learned from your book, I knew that it would be a mistake to submit that statement since I did not apply for my retirement benefits, I had applied for spousal benefits.

The representative then said no, I had not applied for spousal benefits, I had applied for benefits on my own work record. I showed the representative a copy of my online application to show I had done so. The representative had no interest in how I completed the online app or considering how my app had gone from spousal benefits to become an app for retirement benefits. They simply said that the system says I filed for my retirement benefits, and that the only way to change that was to withdraw my previous application and submit a new one applying for spousal benefits, and that they assist me in doing that. The rep led me through this process through verbal questions which I answered. It was difficult to hear the representative, plus I felt rushed. I wasn’t concerned because I expected to get a written document to review and sign and sign at the end. This turned out not to be the case. Once completed, the rep said we were done and gave me a printed copy of materials from my application, and sent me on my way. The formatting and wording of new application is confusing and bears little resemblance to the online application I submitted and everything I had so diligently prepared for. I remain hopeful representative’s work will accomplish the goals I had, but remain anxious.

Now, back to the question I have, why did social security process my online application for spousal benefits as an application for retirement benefit on my own work record? Since Social Security could not tell me what caused this, I re-reviewed my initial online application to see if I could get some clue as to what happened. The only possibility I can see is in how I answered the question #4 below in a series of related questions in a section titled Benefit Information. Here’s how I answered these questions: 1) Intend to apply for Supplemental Security Income benefits NO; 2) Any previous applications for Medicare, Social Security, or Supplemental Security Income benefits YES; 3) Types of benefits for which application submitted MEDICARE BENEFITS; and 4) “Application for benefits submitted on own Social Security Number”. YES (Please note that Question 4 simply says benefits, it does not say what type of benefits.)

I answered yes to question 4 for two reasons. First it appears to be a continuum of questions 2 and 3, so yes, I applied for Medicare Benefits using my own Social Security number. And second, the first two questions on the application ask for my name and social security number, so yes, I’m submitting the application using (“submitted on”) my social security number. If question 4 had said “Is the application for social security benefits based on your work record or the work record of someone else” I would have answered NO, it is not based on my work record / social security number, it is based on my wife’s work record and I provided info on her earlier in the application.” Did I misinterpret what Social Security was asking for? Is this what caused Social Security to process my online application as an application for my retirement benefits instead of an application for spousal benefits?

And, if my new theory is correct, why did Social Security change my application when the preponderance of information in my online app was that I was applying for spousal benefit? Why didn’t they simply tell me that there was an inconsistency in my application between my answers to 2 questions and my remarks regarding what type benefit I was applying for, get clarification, and simply change the answer to question 4 from YES to NO. Why go through a new process of withdrawing the old application and submitting new one using a completely different application process, thereby increasing the risk of errors or introducing other negative consequences to me?


I don't see where you did anything wrong, so I can't explain why Social Security mishandled your claim. It sounds like you properly the answered the question about restricting retirement benefits from the scope of your application, and I don't read anything in your question that would indicate that you somehow inadvertently revoked that restriction. The fact that Social Security uses the same online application path for both retirement and spousal benefits certainly increases the chances for a mistake to occur, but I don't know why they do that either.

Having you withdraw your application and reapply was likely the easiest way for Social Security to correct what appears to have been a mistake on their part. That should end up working out fine, and the only way that I can imagine it would cause you any negative consequences would be if you filed for your own retirement benefits in the future and then decided to withdraw that application. Social Security rules limit you to one withdrawal on retirement applications, so you won't have that option available to you in the future. You shouldn't need it, though, as long as you stick to your plan and wait until age 70 to file for your own benefits.

Best, Jerry