While teaching at a conference last week, I was asked if it is better to call the Social Security national number or a local office. The choice is yours but I encourage use of the SSA national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), most of the time.
In fact, if looking for general information about Social Security, I would first start with the agency website at www.socialsecurity.gov. In addition to online calculators for estimates and other retirement planning tools, online services for people already receiving benefits are available, including replacement of a lost Medicare card.
Coming back to telephone contacts, whether calling the national number or a local office, expect to be asked questions to prove your identity. This is to protect you.
In operation since 1986, the national number system was designed to handle a high volume of telephone calls about all Social Security topics. National and local SSA representatives have access to the same computer system to help serve you. Trained agency representatives staff the national number from 7:00am – 7:00pm for your local time, standard business days, with phone calls directed to one of 33 sites across the country to handle workloads. Automated services are also available.
During fiscal year 2010 the SSA national number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), handled over 60 million inquiries about current or future benefits. The fiscal year 2010 average speed to answer a call was 204 seconds and the average busy rate was only 4.6 percent. Normally, call volumes are highest during the first week of the month and at check delivery times.
Public hours for local offices vary but usually are 9:00am – 3:30pm, standard business days. Small offices might have different office hours, including not being open Monday – Friday. Local office information is online. Local public hours are devoted to all workloads including appointments and walk-in traffic, not only telephone calls.
Making an appointment? Whether you call the national number or local office, the SSA representative uses the same computer system and can see the local office schedule when making your appointment. Once completed, your appointment prints at the local office and appears on the local schedule.
Asking about a pending claim? A national number representative can provide basic status of a pending application most of the time because much of the agency casework is computer tracked. For example, if you have a disability application pending a medical decision at the state Disability Determination Service (DDS), the national representative can see it is there and tell you.
Receiving benefits? Use the SSA national number for questions or to report changes to your record. As noted, whether national or local, all use the same computer system. If the SSA national number representative cannot take care of you, a message goes to your local office.
When to call the local office? If you are working with a local SSA representative on some issue that will require additional contact, continue with them. If you receive a letter from your local office, work directly with the sender.
While I encourage you to call the SSA national number most of the time rather than a local office, the choice is yours. Whether you decide to call the Social Security national number or a local office, consider writing down your questions first. This will help you easily cover them all without needing to call back.