By JESSE HOLLAND
WASHINGTON — Instead of long waits at a Social Security office, seniors with access to the Internet can now apply for their retirement benefits online, federal officials say.
With this new process, which started Thursday, Net-ready seniors likely will never have to stand in line to get their Social Security benefits, said William Halter, the agency’s deputy commissioner.
That’s a relief to seniors like 65-year-old Michael Park of Laurel, Md., who tried the Social Security Administration’s online application process as part of a pilot program.
Park, who admits he’s not the most computer-savvy person around, said he finished the entire process on the Web site at www.ssa.govc in about 30 minutes. If he had gone into a Social Security office instead, Park says he’s confident it would have taken hours.
"The prompts are easy, the time to fill out the online application is unrestricted, the ability to access information is much easier," he said. "It’s all there at your home in front of you and you do not have to sit and wait, even if you have an appointment, for the person who is ahead of you with the particular reviewer to finish because they forget something."
Under the new process, Halter said, seniors can go to the agency’s Web site; fill out, print, sign and mail their application and copies of their identification papers, like birth certificates; answer any questions from the Social Security Administration about their application by telephone; and then start collecting their benefits.
"For those who’d rather do this electronically, we want to have it available for them," Halter said. "For those who’d rather talk with someone on the phone, we’ll have that service channel as well, and for those folks who want the ability to walk in and talk to somebody face-to-face, we have 1,300 field offices around the country and they will continue to have that service option."
Halter said the agency did not have to hire any new employees to run the system or to answer questions.
Cathy Noe, an agency spokeswoman, said if the Internet can shave five minutes off the benefits process, it would save the agency $500,000 annually.
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