There are multiple ways to apply for Social Security benefits, including by calling 800-772-1213, by visiting your nearest Social Security office in person, or if you’re overseas, by visiting the nearest Social Security international office, United States Embassy, or United States Consulate.
But for many people the most convenient way to apply for Social Security benefits is online at the Social Security Administration website. There you will simply have to fill out the Social Security Benefit Application.
The information you’ll be asked to supply on the online application form includes:
* Date of birth
* Place of birth
* Social Security number
* Amount of money earned last year
* Estimate of amount of money to be earned the current year
* If you are applying in September or later, estimate of amount of money to be earned next year
* Name and address of employer(s) for the aforementioned years
* Beginning and ending dates of U.S. military service prior to 1968
* Name, Social Security number, date of birth or age, date of death, and date of divorce of current and former spouses
* Date and place of marriages
* Copy of current Social Security statement, if you have one
* Bank routing number and account number if you want your benefits direct deposited
If you have all this information handy when you start the online form, it should take no more than twenty to thirty minutes to complete. You do not have to complete it all at once however; the form can be saved so that you can resume later if you need to stop.
After you complete your online application, you may be asked for certain documentation, with instructions on how to submit such documentation by mail or by bringing it to your local Social Security office. Items you might have to supply include:
* Social Security card
* United States birth certificate
* Proof other than a birth certificate of United States citizenship or lawful alien status
* Military discharge papers
* Most recent year’s tax return and W-2 forms
These must be originals, or copies certified by the issuing office. They will be returned to you.
Once you have submitted everything requested, your application will be reviewed. You’ll be sent a letter informing you whether and when your Social Security benefits will start. You will also be told if you may be able to receive benefits on another person’s record, or if other family members may be able to receive benefits on yours.
The turnaround time is usually fast enough that you can start receiving benefits the same month you apply. To be on the safe side though, you may apply up to three months prior to when you want your benefits to commence.
Even if you are old enough to apply for your Social Security benefits now, that doesn’t mean that you should. The decision of when to apply for benefits should be weighed very carefully. You may start your retirement benefits as early as age 62, but this is optional. There are certain advantages (and disadvantages) of delaying starting your benefits until later, up to age 70. Be sure you understand all the ramifications of your employment, savings, life expectancy, tax situation, etc. on starting your Social Security benefits at different ages, and make the decision that is best for your situation. This is the kind of decision you may want to discuss with a qualified financial professional, as the pros and cons can get quite complex.
“Applying for Benefits Online.” Social Security Online.
“How to Apply for Benefits.” Social Security Online.
“What Documents Will You Need When You Apply?” Social Security Online.