Widow underpaid by Social Security for 15 years to get $56K check

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Concord woman gets wrong Social Security amount
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It took a Bay Area widow 15 years to get the correct Social Security benefits. She turned to 7 On Your Side for help.

CONCORD, Calif. -- It took a Bay Area widow 15 years to get the correct social security benefits. She turned to 7 On Your Side for help.

This story is a reminder to all of us to keep track annually of the Social Security benefits you earn. As one woman found out, costly mistakes can and do happen.

It is not easy for Diane Cheng to stand up. The 65-year-old Concord woman pointed to the area of her back that is in constant pain. Her injuries are from a forklift accident in 1995.

Her husband Jason died of cancer five years later. Cheng receives Social Security benefits as a widow and for her permanent disability. Earlier this year, Cheng went into the Social Security office with a question, but she ended up with so much more.

"I was surprised. I was shocked," Cheng said.

It turns out her widow benefits had been miscalculated over the past 15 years. Cheng was entitled to receive an additional $460 a month. She would also get a lump sum check for 56,000 for all the years she was underpaid.

"It's going to make a big difference. I can go buy food. I can go to the movies. I can buy gasoline and vacation," Cheng said.

Social Security is her only income and she had been getting $1,200 a month. With that, $1,000 went to rent, leaving her with just $200 for everything else. She had to sell the jewelry her mother gave her to survive.

"She gave it to me on my wedding..." Cheng said as she began to cry.

Social Security refused to comment on camera, but did say everyone should calculate their current and future benefits on its website.

Cheng anxiously waited for her lump sum check, but Social Security told her its payment to her of $56,255 was returned. The bank told her it wouldn't do that, so she contacted 7 On Your Side.

"They got the money in three days for me," Cheng said.

It turns out Social Security had been mistakenly sending the money to a bank account Cheng closed three years ago.

Here is a tool to help you calculate your own benefits.

Answers to important questions about Social Security benefits:

1. What can Social Security benefit recipients do to make sure they are getting the proper benefits?

We encourage our public to create a My Social Security account online here. This is a great way to stay on top of one's earnings, plan for the future, and conduct business with the Social Security Administration (SSA) online. On our website at socialsecurity.gov you will also find resources that will provide the public with information such as Understanding The Benefits - SSA Publication No. 05-10024. Another tool on our website is the benefit calculator. These tools provide the user with information they may find useful as they plan for their future.

Calculators and Benefits Planner

Your Future Benefits

2. How can one rectify the situation if you believe you are not receiving the right benefits?

If there is a question about the benefit amount they should visit our website at SocialSecurity.gov or call 1-800-772-1213 or at our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. They can also schedule an appointment with their local field office.

3. Are there common areas of misunderstanding about the benefits one should receive?

No, but you can find answers and general information about SSA's programs and procedures by visiting our website at www.socialsecurity.gov and clicking on the "FAQs" (Frequently Asked Questions) tab.

4. Can you explain the widow benefit?

A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled), may be eligible to receive monthly benefits if the deceased spouse worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits. A person qualifies for Social Security benefits by earning Social Security credits when they work in a job and pay Social Security taxes. The number of credits needed to provide benefits for a survivor on a workers record, depends on the worker's age when they die. The younger a person is, the fewer credits he or she must have for family members to receive survivors benefits on their record. But no one needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for any Social Security benefit. Click on the links for additional information. How Social Security Can Help You When A Family Member Dies - SSA Publication No. 05-10008 , How You Earn Credits - SSA Publication No. 05-10072