Social Security & You: What people really think about the agency's service

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In last week’s column, I shared the results of a survey I conducted with my readers in which I asked you to rate the service you got from the Social Security Administration using the ubiquitous star system: five stars for good service down to one star for poor service. I got more than 200 responses. And your responses averaged out to 4.5 stars.

Many of you included comments. Thank you so much for that. There is just no way I can include all those comments, but here are a few that I hope are representative.

“Five stars. I applied over the phone and it went just great. I was very impressed with the knowledge and professionalism of the lady I spoke with.”

“Five stars. When my wife applied for Social Security benefits prior to her full retirement age, the in-person SSA representative completely explained all of her options. When I retired at my full retirement age, my online application was quick, easy and accurate. Subsequently, when we called the SSA with questions, representatives have always provided great friendly, courteous, and knowledgeable customer service. Even though I was disappointed with the long wait times, I was still highly satisfied.”

People are also reading…

“Five stars. This is based on how easy it was for my wife to get her own benefits, how easy it was to get mine, and how easy it was to convert my wife’s benefit to spousal benefits when I started receiving mine. In fact, we were personally contacted by an agent who had a conference call with us to go over the details, and what can be expected. And it all went as explained and expected, complete with follow-up correspondence.”

“Five stars. My wife and I visited our local Social Security office three times over the years and the service was outstanding. I was scared by all the horror stories, but the service couldn’t have been better. We dealt with SSA offices in both Pennsylvania and South Carolina and there was no difference — both top shelf service.”

“Five stars. We went in person to our local Social Security office to apply. The place was packed. We stated why we were there and were told to take a seat. Thinking we would be there for hours, our names were called in a matter of minutes. We followed the person through a door and it became a whole different environment. It was very calm and peaceful. We were seated with a very lovely lady that made us feel like we were her only client of the day. What a pleasant surprise! She answered all of our questions and treated us as if we were her friends. It was a very positive experience.”

“Four stars. I note importantly that we did extensive research about our options before contacting the SSA, so I relied on them for just executing transactions. No advice or consulting, as that seems to be a thing of the past when dealing with front desks. We used online processing and only called when we had to. Why not five stars? Mostly the long delays on the phone, usually one to three hours on hold. They did not offer a call-back option.”

“Four stars. I found the online system excellent and the in-person support somewhat lacking in expertise but my problem was ultimately resolved, so pretty good overall.”

And I was surprised how sometimes the ratings people gave seemed to contradict one another. Here is an example.

“Four stars. I got good service from my local Social Security office and bad service from the 800 number.”

“Three stars: I got bad service from my local Social Security office but good service from the 800 number.”

And sometimes, one problem could skew someone’s overall rating. Here is an example.

“One star. SSA’s frontline employees do routine work very well. But I recently had trouble getting a corrected SSA-1099. We had nothing unusual happen in 2023 yet our 2023 1099 form was goofed up.”

In last week’s column, I commented on the vagaries that exist in these rating systems. (My daughter-in-law’s pie business got a one-star review because she used Colorado cherries instead of Michigan cherries in her cherry pie!) I saw quite a few examples of those vagaries in the comments I got. For example, one guy gave a three-star review even though he was totally satisfied with the services he received from the SSA. He said, “Three stars should be taken as high praise regardless of what Yelp reviewers think.” (To me, that’s like telling students who got an A on their test that you are giving them a C because in your opinion, a C is “high praise.”)

As I said, I got so many thoughtful comments. But let me end with these two reviews:

“Five stars plus. I’ve had better customer service at the SSA than in just about any other private sector company I can think of. It’s one of the reasons why I, even as a die-hard conservative, don’t accept the idea that government is necessarily evil, or that we can live without a good government. On the contrary, great people in our government agencies enhance the lives of all of us and they are one of the reasons why we can be proud of our country. We really have some great people working in federal offices (not all of them, of course). We really need to appreciate and acknowledge the great work these professionals do — and not just deride our government.”

I found that last comment very enlightening since I also got several reviews like this one:

“One star. We all know the government can’t do anything right and the Social Security office is just an example of that.”

Oh, well. Thanks anyway to all the readers who responded to my totally unscientific survey. I apologize if you sent me some insightful comments and I didn’t include them here. I just ran out of room. Still, it seems that overall, the Social Security Administration can be proud of the work they do. Now if they just cut down on those waiting times in their field offices and at their 800 number.

A new report estimates retirees need $184,000 to $217,000 individually or $351,000 as a couple saved just for healthcare costs in retirement. These amounts provide a 90% chance of covering Medicare premiums, deductibles, coinsurance, and prescription drugs. Healthcare costs are rising much faster than inflation or Social Security increases, putting stress on retiree budgets. Long-term care costs for assisted living or home care are even higher, requiring, on average, 17+ years of savings.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has two books with all the answers. One is called “Social Security — Simple and Smart: 10 Easy-to-Understand Fact Sheets That Will Answer All Your Questions About Social Security.” The other is “Social Security: 100 Myths and 100 Facts.” Email him at

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