Retirees Share Experiences with Social Security Sign-up

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By the time Millennials and Generation Z retire, signing up for Social Security online will no doubt be second nature. It’s been a little rockier for the less technologically adept baby boomers.

To get a read on retiring boomers’ experiences, the U.S. Social Security Administration funded a survey designed by Jean-Pierre Aubry at the Center Retirement Research. The survey asked the boomers to rate their satisfaction with the process of claiming their benefits online or through direct contact with the agency’s local field offices and telephone customer service.

The retirees gave the agency high ratings overall. On a scale of 1 to 10, the vast majority reported a score of 8 or more.

And the average score given by those who wound up having to contact Social Security directly during the process of claiming their benefits was 8.3, which was only slightly lower than the 8.7 score given by people who stuck to using the website. When satisfaction levels dipped below 8, they mainly cropped up among the people who called Social Security or visited a field office.

The 60 percent of retirees who contacted the agency – they were more likely to be Black or Hispanic – were asked to report on why they did.

Their answers split along their levels of satisfaction. The people who gave high satisfaction scores – 8 or above – for direct contact with the agency mainly wanted to know whether they were eligible for benefits yet and how much they would get. The lower scorers had different reasons: they were seeking information on how to apply or about options for signing up for their benefits, such as how their age might affect their monthly Social Security checks.

The agency’s MySocialSecurity website provides a nifty chart with personalized estimates of how much each worker’s monthly benefit increases as they delay the age they retire.

Many of the people who were less satisfied with the process of applying for benefits also said they either were unaware of the online option or had contacted the agency because they had initially tried to go online but encountered problems with Social Security’s website.

Lower satisfaction levels, the researchers concluded, “often stem from those who might prefer to use online tools but ultimately do not.”

Suggestions for improving the process were also split. The retirees who contacted the agency directly wanted to see shorter wait times on the phone or at one of Social Security’s local offices. The online applicants thought more detailed guidance on the process would be useful.

Social Security is providing solid customer service. But retirees’ responses to the survey indicate they feel the agency could do more to improve the online experience and get the word out that the MySocialSecurity website exists and what it can do.

To read this brief by Jean-Pierre Aubry, see “How Satisfied are Retirees with the Social Security Claiming Process?”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

2 comments
Chuck Miller

SSA needs to staff up its phone service. Waiting 45 minutes to talk to someone is ridiculous.

Edward Kierklo

I want to share this particular experience with your readers regarding the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of Social Security. The reason I bring this up is that many people, myself included, do not become aware of it till the time of application. This provision can significantly reduce your lifetime benefit. It is too complicated to explain here but if you get a “government pension” this may apply and the definition of a “government pension” can be very broad. If you have ever had a job where you were not required to pay into Social Security or you opted not to then make sure you understand the potential impact. Ask your HR department or CFO and do not expect Social Security Administration to give you any kind of heads-up.

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