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Retirement Page

With the retirement of the nation’s 70-plus million baby boomers just around the corner, the Social Security Administration has brought processing benefits applications to the Internet.

Retirees today can make a smooth transition out of the workforce and onto the Web, thanks, in part, to a new service being offered by the Social Security Administration, which enables senior citizens to apply for their social security benefits on-line.

Launched in November 2000 with little publicity, the service is now being marketed throughout the nation as a faster, easier, and more convenient way to apply for retirement benefits. The administration made an initial investment of $1.5 million to get the services off the ground, which, according to Tim Walsh, director of public affairs for the Hawaii Branch of the Social Security Administration, was a sound investment. “Every time someone does one of these claims they’re helping us deal with work that would’ve been a challenge otherwise,” says Walsh.

According to Walsh, the administration’s workload increases annually, and with the retirement of the nation’s 70-plus million baby boomers just around the corner, it’ll shoot up dramatically. Nationally, 35 million people currently receive retirement benefits, and by 2030 that number will double. In Hawaii, 174,000 recipients receive their share of roughly $1.45 billion in social security benefits annually. Walsh explains that the current ratio of workers paying social security taxes to the number of benefits recipients is about 3.3 to 1. “By 2030 the ratio’s going to be 2 to 1, and it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the system,” says Walsh.

Social Call: The Social Security Administration’s Tim Walsh demonstrates the ease of applying for benefits on-line.

The new on-line service attempts to relieve some of that pressure by streamlining the application process and reducing the number of hands a claim must pass through. The average claim that is made in person or over the telephone takes an average of 12 days to process. On the other hand, on-line claims are processed instantaneously. “Essentially, if someone goes on-line and fills out the application, and if it’s all done correctly, as soon as we get their proof of age, they’re done. They’re ready to receive a check,” says Walsh. As a safety precaution, proof of age must be either mailed in or hand-delivered to the administration office.

Mailing in a couple documents, however, is a minor inconvenience when compared with the burden of finding parking, waiting in line, and tediously filling out forms at the administration office.

Self-employed bookkeeper Bob Towle, 64, recently filed for his social security benefits on-line. “It was very easy and didn’t take long at all. It saved me a tremendous amount of time,” he says. Towle did run into a couple of roadblocks, however, admitting that the help menu took a while to appear on-screen and there were a couple of ambiguous questions. “Still, it saved me about four or five hours,” he says.

As of January, Towle was one of roughly 16 on-line applicants statewide and 12,000 on-line applicants nationwide. While the service is off to a slow start, Walsh is predicting an exponential increase in the number of applicants as the state continues to see growth in the number of people going online. “We’re looking at this tool more for tomorrow than today, in the sense that 10 years from now we’re going to see a huge number of baby boomers applying on line,” says Walsh. “These are people who’ve grown up with computers. They’re going to naturally think, ‘Telephone ... are you crazy? Get on the Internet!’”

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