A significant share of people who set out to apply for Social Security benefits online ultimately turn to an in-person or phone consultation for assistance during the process, according to a recent study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
In a survey of 2,600 adults ages 57 to 70, 60 percent said they had applied or intend to apply for retirement benefits online, but only 43 percent of those who started the digital form completed the process without contacting a Social Security Administration employee for help.
“Distrust of online tools and a preference for in-person transactions were often cited as reasons for contacting SSA in person or by phone during the claiming process,” the report says.
The findings square with SSA data showing that growth in online applications has stagnated over the past decade. They also highlight challenges the agency faces as the wave of boomer retirees increases demand for Social Security services at a time when “budget constraints and retiring staff are limiting its capacity to deliver these services.”
Speaking Aug. 4 to an online forum of retirement and disability researchers, acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi echoed that assessment.
“Our funding level has been relatively flat since 2018,” she said. “We’ve had to freeze hiring even though we are at the lowest level of staffing in 25 years due to the prior years of underfunding.”
“AARP has been fighting hard to ensure SSA receives the funding it needs to make long-overdue service improvements for its customers. All Americans should be able to receive timely and accurate services from SSA, regardless if they prefer to do so online, over the phone or in-person," says Tom Nicholls, government affairs director for AARP. "Unfortunately, Congress has significantly underfunded the agency for the last decade and this has led to declining services and very real consequences for older Americans and people with disabilities.”
The CRR study concluded that “investing in web-based tools that people can use to serve themselves could help SSA meet the projected increases in demand, even with fewer staff.”