Before You Apply For Social Security…
Before you apply for Social Security benefits, you should review the Social Security website to determine what types of benefits are available and which you might qualify for.
Social Security was originally created to provide retirement benefits to workers, but the program has grown tremendously and now Social Security provides disability benefits, death benefits and other family benefits in addition to retirement benefits.
To determine what Social Security benefits you may qualify for, Social Security offers the BEST screening tool. This is a good tool to use before you apply for Social Security. With this tool you can determine whether you qualify for Medicare, Social Security disability, Social Security retirement, survivor benefits, special veterans benefits, or supplemental security income (SSI). Be prepared to answer questions such as your date of birth, how much you have earned during your working years and other information about your personal finances. This information is necessary to determine which benefits (if any) you may be eligible for.
How Do You Apply for Social Security Retirement and Other Benefits?
Once you’ve determined what benefits you may qualify for, how do you apply for Social Security benefits?
The Social Security administration offers several ways to apply for Social Security. You can apply online at ssa.gov, by visiting your local Social Security office, or by calling the SSA at 1-800-772-1213.
The online Social Security application can be used to apply for retirement or spousal benefits, or to apply for Medicare. To apply for Social Security retirement benefits you must be at least 61 years and 9 months old. You must also plan on starting your benefits in the next four months. Finally you need to live in the United States (or territories) to use the online application. If you are close to age 65, you will apply for Medicare at the same time that you apply for Social Security retirement benefits.
What Information Will You Need to Apply for Social Security?
When applying for benefits, you will be asked many questions about your age, your work history and other personal finance data. You should have the following documents available before you start the online application:
- Your birth certificate
- Your citizenship or naturalization papers (if applicable)
- your military service papers (if applicable)
- your W-2 forms or self employment tax return for the last tax year.
In addition, you should be prepared to provide the following information:
- your birth-date and place of birth
- your Social Security number
- your bank account and routing number (if you are requesting direct deposit for your benefits)
- how much you earned the last two years, including your employer’s name and address
- information about your military service
- information about your current and any former spouses, including name, Social Security number and date of birth (or age if you don’t know the birthdate)
- your earnings history from your most recent Social Security statement
When is the Best Time to Apply for Social Security Retirement?
If you are applying for Social Security retirement benefits, you should carefully decide the best time to apply. While you can collect Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, that may not be the best time to apply. Your benefits will vary substantially based on when you apply, and your decision on when to apply could impact your family. For more information on when to start receiving benefits, please visit ssa.gov.
There are many factors that could affect your Social Security benefits. If you plan on continuing to work, your benefits may be reduced depending on how much you earn. If you were employed by the government or in a position where you did not contribute to Social Security, your benefits may be reduced. You should read about the windfall elimination provision or the government pension offset if you held a job that wasn’t covered by Social Security at any time during your working years.
You might also qualify for benefits based on other people’s records. For example, you might qualify for benefits based on your spouse’s earnings. Or, if you are divorced or widowed, you might qualify for benefits based on your ex-spouse or deceased spouse’s Social Security records. If you qualify based on your own record, you’ll receive that amount first. However, if you qualify for a higher amount based on your spouse’s record, or your ex-spouse’s or deceased spouse’s record, your total benefit will be a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount. To learn more about spousal and survivor benefits, please visit “Do you also qualify for benefits on someone else’s Social Security record?”
Estimating Your Retirement Benefits
If you want to know how much you can expect to receive from Social Security, but you are not ready to apply for Social Security benefits yet, the ssa.gov website offers several calculators to help you estimate your retirement benefit.