As 10,000 baby boomers retire every day, the average time a caller waits on the phone before connecting with a Social Security staffer has swollen in the past decade from less than five minutes to more than half an hour. That wait is only expected to worsen given that the agency’s staff and budget have declined by more than 15% in the same period.
To help address these problems, the Social Security Administration (SSA) redesigned its website with improved self-service features that the agency hopes will allow more people to sidestep phone calls and office visits so that representatives can concentrate on those who need in-person assistance the most.
We conducted a test drive of the new website to provide more insight into how it works and report on what’s better and what could use some tweaking.
- The redesigned Social Security Administration (SSA) website rolled out on Dec. 6, 2022, and represents an extensive reworking of the agency’s online presence.
- The site is designed to be user-friendly and direct visitors to the types of tasks they most need to complete.
- The organization is simple, with just two major information blocks covering preparing and applying for benefits and managing your account once it’s created.
- Clicking a link on the home page leads to specific information about a task and additional links to complete the task.
- Social Security hopes most people will find the information they need on the website, freeing representatives to focus phone and in-person interactions on those who require special handling.
The redesign is intended to provide a clear path to the tasks that customers need, according to a press release announcing the upgrade. Many of the most-visited sections of SSA.gov have been retooled and are now live with what the agency calls a more user-friendly, task-based approach.
More than 180 million people a year visit SSA.gov, making it one of the agency’s most important tools for public interaction. It will use feedback from visitors to create new pages and improvements in the coming months.
How the Website Works
The home page (https://www.ssa.gov/) has been redesigned to focus on the most frequent reasons why people contact the agency. At the top of the page, one of two large blocks with clickable links under the headline “Securing Your Today and Tomorrow” directs visitors to three topic areas: Preparing for benefits, applying, and following up after you apply. The second block, titled “Manage benefits & information,” includes links to tasks that visitors to SSA.gov frequently need.
Putting these tasks on the home page, with direct links to details, makes it easier for visitors to find what they need and avoid what they don’t. That’s a big plus. Here’s how it all breaks down.
|Securing your today and tomorrow|
|Prepare||Apply||After You Apply|
|Check eligibility for benefits||Apply for benefits||Check application or appeal status|
|Plan for retirement||Sign up for Medicare||Appeal application decision|
- Check eligibility for benefits includes a 10-minute questionnaire that renders a basic reading on your eligibility for retirement, disability, spousal/survivor, or low-income benefits. Unfortunately, the tasks after that first questionnaire don’t generally include an estimate of how long they’ll take to complete, something that could be improved.
- Plan for retirement lets you estimate your monthly benefit (and taxes, if applicable) and provides information about signing up for Medicare, working while retired, when to apply, and more.
- Apply for benefits uses a self-directed checklist where you can choose among retirement, family, disability, or survivor benefits. When you click on a type of benefit, you’re directed to a page that explains how to apply.
Be careful about using the back arrow. If you change your mind about the type of benefit you want to apply for, clicking on “Edit answers” near the top of the page will take you to the list of benefit choices. If you click on the back arrow, however, you’ll be taken all the way back to the home page. This isn’t clear on the page and could cause confusion, especially for people who naturally click that arrow to return to the previous page.
- Sign up for Medicare takes you to an explanation of this program, lists other ways to apply, and provides a link to the application process titled Start an application.
After you apply
- Check application or appeal status lets you sign into your MySocial Security account (created when you applied for benefits) and check on the status of your application or appeal of a decision. This points to another minor glitch: The process to create a MySocial Security account isn’t clear. Instead of referring to it by name, the site refers to it as “your account.”
- Appeal application decision links to instructions and paperwork if you don’t agree with the decision made on your application for benefits, whether for retirement, disability, survivor, or low-income.
The second block, titled “Manage Benefits and Information,” lists tasks under four captions as follows:
|Manage benefits and information|
|Documents||Number & card|
|Get benefit verification letter||Replace card|
|Get tax form (1099/1042s)||Request number for the first time|
|Report stolen number|
|Update direct deposit||Change name|
|Repay overpaid benefits||Update contact information|
|Request to withhold taxes||Update incorrect birthday|
|View benefit payment schedule||Update sex identification|
- Get benefit verification letter lets you sign into your MySocial Security account and retrieve this verification of benefit income, often needed for loan applications or housing assistance.
- Get tax form (1099/1042s) directs you to downloadable forms you need to report Social Security income on your annual tax return.
Number & card
- Replace card, as you might expect, lets you apply online for a replacement Social Security card, which Social Security will send to you in the mail. This is easy to complete—a big plus. That’s because replacing a card causes many people to get caught up in the telephone/office visit tangle. Kudos to SSA for making this process simple.
Social Security advises that losing your card doesn’t necessarily mean you need a replacement. In most cases, knowing your Social Security number is enough.
- Request number for the first time is actually a catch-all category that covers Replacing a lost, stolen, or damaged card; Updating or correcting personal information; or Requesting a Social Security number for the first time. Click start and answer questions to begin the process.
- Report stolen number might seem redundant since the caption above includes “replacing a stolen card.” That’s not the case. This caption involves reporting your stolen card to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) so it can deal with the loss as potential identity theft.
- Update direct deposit allows you to make changes to information about your bank account so that Social Security can deposit your monthly benefit check without delay.
- Repay overpaid benefits answers the question, “If Social Security sends me too much, can I keep it?” Spoiler: The answer is “No.” This link lets you make arrangements to return any overpayment, something that usually happens because you haven’t shared information about a change in your status, such as your ability to work or marital status.
Note that Social Security won’t call or text you. For example, it will notify you of an overpayment by letter and you have 30 days to make arrangements to repay. If you get a call or text “from Social Security,” it’s someone trying to scam you.
- Request to withhold taxes covers paying federal income taxes on your benefits if your combined income (50% of your benefit amount plus any other earned income) exceeds $25,000/year filing individually or $32,000/year filing jointly. You have the option to pay the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) directly or have taxes withheld from your benefit payment.
- View benefit payment schedule provides a way to view past and upcoming payments and when to expect them.
The date you get your benefits every month depends on your birthday and the type of benefits you get.
- Change name lets you update your record online when your name changes, without a lengthy wait on the phone followed by a visit to a Social Security office in some cases. To see if you qualify and save yourself time, start your search online. This section—although it refers to tasks that often will require a trip to an SSA office—also does a good job of preparing you for the visit, thereby saving you lost time or a return visit.
- Update contact information lets you update your email address, mailing address, or phone number online in most cases. In some instances, you may have to call a Social Security office to complete the process.
- Update incorrect birthday provides information about what you need to have when you visit a local Social Security office to update or correct date-of-birth information, something you must do in person. This is essentially a version of applying for a new Social Security card (see above).
- Update sex identification indicates another situation that typically requires a visit to a Social Security office. The link leads to information that helps you prepare for the visit or contact Social Security by mail or phone.
Do I have to visit a Social Security office to apply for benefits?
In most cases, no. Go to the Social Security home page at SSA.gov, click on the link to apply for benefits, and answer the questions. You can use the site to apply for both Social Security and Medicare.
How do I know if I am eligible for benefits under Social Security?
The best way to find out is to visit the Social Security home page at SSA.gov and click on “Check eligibility for benefits.” There you will answer a series of questions to determine your likely eligibility for retirement, disability, survivor, or low-income benefits.
How can I find out the status of my appeal of denied disability benefits?
Start by going to SSA.gov, click on “Check application or appeal status” if you filed an appeal and want to know where you stand, or “Appeal application decision” if your application was denied or you disagree with the amount and want to file an appeal.
The Bottom Line
The new Social Security website is easy to use when it comes to the most frequently asked questions or issues for benefit recipients. Most people can save themselves a frustrating wait on the phone or a lengthy delay to get an appointment for an in-person interview, provided that their issue doesn’t require special attention.
U.S. Census Bureau. “By 2030, All Baby Boomers Will Be Age 65 or Older.”
Social Security Administration. “Social Security Administration (SSA) Monthly Data for National 800 Number Network Average Speed to Answer.” Download.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Social Security Administration Cuts Hurt Every State.”
Social Security Administration. “Social Security Administration Launches Redesigned Website at SSA.gov.”
Social Security Administration. “Social Security Number and Card.”
Social Security Administration, Frequently Asked Questions. “What Should I Do If I Get a Call Claiming There’s a Problem with My Social Security Number or Account?”
Social Security Administration. “Repay Overpaid Social Security Benefits.”
Social Security Matters. “What Day of the Month Do I Get My Social Security Payment?”