EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - There is a tsunami of Baby Boomers headed for Social Security.
Nearly 80 million of them are expected to enter the government-managed retirement program - an estimated 20,000 per day for the next 20 years.
If you think the crowd at the Social Security field office here is bad now, just wait.
Or maybe not.
Since the start of this year, Americans have been able to apply for Social Security benefits entirely online - no need to mail in a signature or copy of a birth certificate. For most people, online application should take 15 minutes or less.
Oskar Ernst, Social Security district manager, said the time and effort saved applying online rather than by phone or in person are enough that everyone should consider giving it a try. In a recent period, 47 percent of applicants chose to do at least part of it online.
"We urge people to explore it even if they don't initially think they want to apply online," Ernst said this week.
Even though Social Security schedules appointments for applicants, sitting and waiting for service is still common at the field office.
"And if you can get an appointment now within three weeks, it's unusual because of the high demand," he said.
Applying online - at
- takes far less time and requires no drive to the office.
And the time savings are even greater when applying for disability benefits online.
Because disability claims require much more documentation, they take up more time in the office.
"People come in and they have no idea the detail required to process a disability claim," Ernst said.
When applying online, they find out what information is needed and can gather it according to their own schedule.
Social Security's online site offers much more than applying for benefits.
Using its Benefits Planner, a person can accurately estimate what their Social Security benefit will be when they retire.
"By going into the retirement planner, they can plunk in their own estimates of earnings and retirement times and get an even more accurate estimate than is in their annual statement," he said.
By changing the variables - such as when they begin collecting benefits or differences in wages - they can look at the effect their choices will have on their benefits, he said.
Future beneficiaries also can track their payroll contributions to Social Security to make sure they're being credited in full - a critical factor in determining their benefit when they retire.
"If they find some goose eggs that shouldn't be in there, they can fax their W-2 forms for the appropriate year and we can fix it," Ernst said. "In some cases, a whole report from an employer may have gone awry."
He added that those who apply online for benefits shouldn't worry about having a problem with the program or making a mistake.
The cases are reviewed by claims representatives, Ernst said, and "if something doesn't look right, or if they overlook a feature that would benefit them, a claim rep will call them about it."
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