You’ve decided that you’re going to apply for Social Security retirement benefits, but how does that process work and when do you need to apply?
When to start
In order to apply for Social Security benefits, you need to be at least 61 years and nine months old, but you won’t begin receiving benefits until you turn 62. Of course, you don’t have to start collecting your retirement benefits at 62 years old and you can apply for Medicare without collecting retirement benefits at the same time. Waiting to apply for Medicare can actually result in higher premiums, so it’s important to do it as soon as possible.
If you’re planning to apply for retirement benefits after you turn 62, the earliest date you can apply is 4 months before you want your benefits to start. Keep in mind that you may also need some extra time to collect the required documentation so it is wise to prepare that documentation ahead of time.
What you’ll need
In order to apply for Social Security benefits you’ll need to round up some documentation regarding your work history, identity, military service, and health insurance (Medicare only). Here’s what you’ll want to have handy when you apply:
- Your birth information
- Your original birth certificate to prove your date and place of birth (this is required if you’re applying for Medicare only as well)
- If you were born outside the US you’ll need the name of your birth country at the time of your birth and your Permanent Resident Card number if you are not a U.S citizen
- Your Social Security number
- Spouse information
- Name of current spouse (if applicable)
- Name of prior spouse (if the marriage lasted more than 10 years or ended in death)
- Spouse(s) date of birth and SSN (optional)
- Beginning and ending dates of marriage(s)
- Place of marriage(s) (city, state or country, if married outside the U.S.)
- The names of any unmarried children under 18 (or 18-19 if still in high school), and disabled children under 22
- Employment/Income details
- The name and address of your employers from this and prior 2 years.
- Business type and total net income if self-employed within the current year or prior 2 years
- The amount of money you earned last year, this year, and your estimated earnings next year (if any)
- A copy of last year’s W-2 or self-employment tax return
- Your earnings record (a copy of your Social Security statement has this information)
- Records of any U.S. military service (documented with a copy of your military service papers)
- Your bank account information if you want your benefits directly deposited (account type, number and routing number)
- Medicaid (state health insurance) number & start and end dates (For Medicare only)
- Current health insurance details (For Medicare only)
- Employment start and end dates for the current employer (of you or your spouse) who provides your health insurance coverage through a Group Health Plan
- Start and end dates for the Group Health Insurance provided by you (or your spouse’s) current employer
Not all of these documents are required for everyone, but it’s best to have them handy so that if you do need them, you can proceed with your application. If you use the online or phone application, you’ll be given a list of required documents, as well as instructions of how to submit them. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list because there are many special circumstances that will require additional documentation.
How to apply
Now that you’ve got your paperwork together, you’re ready to apply and you have 3 different options and you can use whichever you feel most comfortable with. You can apply online at https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/rib and the process only takes about 30 minutes.
If you’d prefer to apply by phone, you can call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call them at TTY 1-800-325-0778.
In order to apply in person at your local Social Security office, click here to locate your nearest office and call ahead to make an appointment.
If you don’t live in the U.S. of a U.S. territory, you can get in-person help at your nearest U.S. Social Security office, U.S. Embassy or consulate.
Things to consider
If you plan to apply by phone, you should be aware that the SSA’s phones are staffed from 7am-7 pm in whichever U.S. time zone you’re in. It is recommended that you avoid calling between 10am-3pm because those are very busy hours for the SSA and you will likely have a long wait.
For your own financial planning, keep in mind that benefits are paid the month after they are due. (If your benefits start in April, you will receive your first benefit payment in May.)
Anyone born between the 1st and the 10th of the month is always paid on the 2nd Wednesday of the month; anyone born between the 11th and the 20th of the month is always paid on the 3rd Wednesday of the month; and anyone born between the 21st and the end of the month is always paid on the 4th Wednesday of the month. The word “paid” means that the direct deposit is sent. Depending on your bank, it may take a few days for your payment to post and be available to you.
What happens after you file
If you apply online or on the phone, you’ll be given instructions to submit the documents that are required. Once the SSA receives all of your documents, they will review your application and they will contact you if they need more information.
They will also let you know if you may be able to receive benefits on another person’s record, such as your spouse or if other family members may be able to receive benefits on your work record. When the SSA have all of the necessary information and documents, they’ll process your application and send you a letter about their decision in the mail.
Need more help?
If you have any questions about applying for Social Security retirement benefits, please contact me here.