How to Apply for Social Security

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Once you hit a certain age, you start thinking about Social Security. It might bring up some questions that you don’t know how to answer. This is common. Most people don’t even consider Social Security until they start thinking about retirement.

But those questions come and they can be overwhelming:

What is involved in applying for Social Security? At what age can you draw Social Security? What is the process for letting the federal government know that you are ready to do so?

In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions, and arm you with the information necessary to make use of Social Security successfully in your life.

Let’s get started.

Drawing Social Security Benefits

The Social Security Administration is responsible for processing all applications for benefits. It is a good idea to begin your application process about four months before you actually want to begin receiving benefits. That way, when the need arises, you’ll already be set up.

Types of Benefits

  • Retirement Benefits
  • Survivor Benefits

Eligibility Requirements for Retirement Benefits

  • You must be 61 years and 9 months old.
  • You must not have applied for retirement benefits before this.
  • You must not be currently receiving Social Security benefits.
  • You must be at least 4 months out from the time you expect your benefits to start.

How to File an Application for Social Security Retirement Benefits

  • In person: You will need an appointment in order to apply in person for your Social Security benefits. You will need to find and contact your local SSA office to make an appointment. Call 800-772-1213 to find the local office.
  • By phone: There are very specific hours when you can apply by phone. These hours are Monday through Friday Eastern Time from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 800-772-1213 and TTY 800-325-0778. It is best to call at the least busy times – at the end of the day, at the end of the week, and at the end of the month.
  • Online: You can apply for Social Security benefits online anytime you choose – 24 hours a day/7 days a week. This is, in fact, the easiest way to do so, but be aware that you may not be able to apply for all your benefits online. You might, however, need to complete the application either in-person or on the phone. The online system will tell you how to proceed.

What You Need for Retirement Benefits

Here are the documents you will need when applying for Social Security Benefits:

  • Proof of citizenship in the United States or proof of lawful permanent resident status if born outside the U.S.
  • You need your original birth certificate, not a copy. If you do not have an original, you can include a copy that is certified by the hospital or agency that issued the original one.
  • A copy of your W-2 form for the current/previous year or if you were self-employed, a copy of last year’s tax return.
  • If you served in the military before 1968 – a copy of your DD-214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.

You will also need to provide your recent earnings, eligibility for a federal pension, marital history, and whether other family members can claim any benefits on your record.

Applying for Survivor Benefits

  • You must apply in person or by phone, not online.
  • You must provide the Social Security number of the deceased.
  • Your Social Security number and the Social Security number of any dependent children of the deceased.
  • Your birth certificate or religious record of birth.
  • Your marriage certificate or divorce decree.
  • Death certificate of deceased.
  • Record of earnings of the deceased in the form of W-2s or tax returns.
  • Apply the same month the retiree or covered worker dies.

FAQs about Social Security

There are many commonly asked or wondered about questions regarding applying for and receiving your Social Security Benefits. Some of these are included below, along with the answers.

Can I work and receive my retirement benefits?

The answer is yes but not a lot. There are limits on how much you can earn in any month and receive your full retirement benefits. If you are not at full retirement age of 65 and you earn more than allowed in a year, SSA will reduce your Social Security Benefit by the total amount of your earnings. Once you reach full retirement age, you may earn any amount and your benefits will not be reduced.

What happens to my Social Security benefits if I receive a pension from my job and that job was with the Federal Government and not covered by Social Security?

If this occurs your Social Security benefits are determined by a different formula and they are reduced based on your government pension. This is also true if you receive a pension for out of the country employment.

Do military benefits affect my Social Security benefits?

No. Your Social Security benefit is not reduced by your military benefits. You can receive full benefits from both.

If I take money out of my IRA will it affect my Social Security benefit?

No. The SSA does not include IRAs, pensions, interests, annuities, or dividends as part of your earnings.

How to Contact the Social Security Administration

As mentioned above you can contact the Social Security Administration by phone or online. It is best to have an appointment if going in person. It is not helpful just to walk into an SSA office. Use the following contact information to set up an appointment:

Phone: 800-772-1213

Applying for Social Security Is Meant to Be Easy

As you can see, it really isn’t very difficult to apply for Social Security benefits, whether retirement or survivor. The SSA does try to make it as easy as possible. Just be sure that no matter how you apply you have the proper information and documents with you. If you forget even one, you might stand in line for an hour only to be told you must come back later with the proper documents and information.