Providers Suggest Ways to Improve Social Security Education

August 13, 2012 ( - In interviews with defined contribution (DC) plan providers, researchers found a desire to present a holistic picture of individuals’ potential retirement income.

Plan providers reported numerous efforts to include Social Security benefits information in their communications with employees, but indicated the efforts are not totally effective, according to a working paper from the Pension Research Council. 

Every plan provider made a variety of tools available to participants, including online calculators and/or worksheets, to help with judging about how much they needed to accumulate by their target retirement dates. The calculators also tended to include Social Security benefits as a factor to consider in calculating retirement saving needs.  

All the providers reported having website content about Social Security benefits, including articles, seminars and links to the Social Security website. Some providers arranged for representatives from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to participate in webinars and seminars. The input provided by these SSA representatives was considered of high value.   

Despite these educational efforts, most plan providers believed that participants still lacked a good understanding of how the Social Security benefit structure works, what level of benefits to expect, and how to evaluate the most effective time to claim benefits.

The plan providers that were interviewed offered several suggestions for how they and the SSA should work together: 

  • Social Security Optimizer. One respondent asked for an online Social Security Optimizer, to help plan representatives work with participants as they figure out the best age for them to claim their Social Security retirement benefits. This material would be given to advisers and plan participant representatives who interact with and educate participants. Some participants believe that a publicly available Web planner provided by the SSA would likely be accurate due to its access to demographic data and its actuarial and economic expertise.  
  • More Effective Material. Some plan providers suggested they could help the SSA create more user-friendly content and improve the presentation of the valuable information currently offered online. For instance, the conclusion of a frequently asked questions list, and a strategy set for claiming Social Security, including some for married couples. Plan providers would like to integrate data with SSA information. This would permit providers to show participants estimated Social Security retirement benefits (and even spousal benefits), and help arm participants with a better integrated understanding of how much income to expect in retirement.  
  • Representative Training. Several plan providers suggested that the SSA could develop a capacity to train plan provider representatives about Social Security. Plan representatives and other financial professionals could become “certified” Social Security experts, especially if that training could count toward Continuing Education (CE). 


The Pension Research Council working paper can be downloaded here. A free registration is required.