How to Apply For Social Security

Navigating the process of applying for Social Security benefits can be a daunting task, but it’s an essential step in securing financial support for your future.

How to Apply For Social Security
How to Apply For Social Security

Social Security is a vital government program that provides financial assistance to eligible individuals and their families, offering a safety net for retirement, disability, survivors, and other crucial life events. If you’re nearing retirement age, living with a disability, or have recently experienced the loss of a loved one, understanding how to apply for Social Security benefits is essential to access the support you need.

In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the fundamental steps of applying for Social Security benefits. Let’s dive in.

How to Apply for Social Security 

Applying for social security is not that much of a hassle. Here’s a simple way to do it:

Step 1: Ensure You’re Ready to Apply

Before diving into the application process, take a moment to confirm that you’re making the right decision. This choice has long-lasting implications for your financial future.

Step 2: Confirm Your Eligibility

Before proceeding, make sure you meet the eligibility criteria. To qualify for Social Security benefits, you need to be at least 61 years and 9 months old and have accumulated a minimum of ten years of work experience in jobs where you earned Social Security credits. It’s worth noting that the majority of American workers fall under the coverage of Social Security.

Step 3: Gather Essential Documents

This step can seem a bit overwhelming, but it’s quite straightforward. When the time comes to apply for Social Security, you’ll need to collect specific information and documents, including:

  • Your date and place of birth.
  • Your Social Security number.
  • If you’re not a U.S. citizen, your permanent resident card number.
  • The name of your current spouse and any prior spouses (if your marriage lasted over 10 years or ended due to death). The Social Security Administration can help you determine if filing for their benefits would result in a higher payment than filing based on your earnings.
  • Spouse’s Social Security number, birth date, and marriage start and end dates.
  • Names and birth dates of children who became disabled before turning 22 or who are under 18 (and unmarried). You’ll also need information about children aged 18–19 who are still attending full-time secondary school.
  • Details about your current job and any positions you’ve held in the past two years. This information can be found on your online Social Security statement, and you’ll need the names of your employers, as well as your employment start and end dates.
  • If you’re self-employed (or have been in the last two years), you’ll need to report your business type and total net income.
  • If you opt for direct deposit of Social Security benefits into your bank account, you’ll also require your bank account type and number, along with the bank routing number. (For international banks, you’ll need additional details such as the bank country, name, code, currency type, and branch/transit number.)

Step 4: Complete Your Application

Armed with the information mentioned above, you’re ready to complete your application. You have several options for this:

  • Apply online, which typically takes around 15 minutes.
  • Apply by phone using 1-800-772-1213.
  • Apply in person at your local Social Security office, but you’ll need to schedule an appointment by calling 1-800-772-1213.

Step 5: Keep an Eye on Your Application Status

After submitting your application, the Social Security Administration may reach out if they have any questions. You can also track the status of your application online.

It’s that simple!

However, before you start any of the above steps, take a moment to carefully consider when you want to begin receiving benefits.

This decision can significantly impact your financial well-being during retirement. Continue reading for essential guidance on making this crucial decision.

When to Apply for Social Security

As mentioned earlier, you become eligible to apply for Social Security retirement benefits at the age of 61 years and nine months, and you have the option to start receiving benefits as early as age 62.

However, it’s important to understand that just because you can start at 62 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice.

The longer you wait before initiating your benefits, the higher your monthly income will be. Delaying your benefits can make a substantial difference in your lifetime income. For many individuals, this difference can amount to more than $100,000, and, in some cases, significantly more.

While you can technically begin receiving benefits at age 62, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers this an “early” start. Your “full retirement age,” as defined by the SSA, varies based on your birth year and falls somewhere between 66 and 67 years.

If you decide to start receiving benefits before reaching your full retirement age, the SSA will deduct approximately 0.55% from your monthly payout for each month you start early. On the flip side,

if you choose to postpone your benefits until after reaching your full retirement age, you will receive a more substantial monthly payment. The exact bonus percentage depends on your birthdate.

For instance, if you were born in 1944, your full retirement age is 66. Starting benefits at age 69 would result in an additional eight per cent in benefits for each year of delay.

In essence, the decision of when to begin drawing Social Security benefits is a critical one, and it can have a significant impact on your overall financial well-being during retirement. It’s crucial to weigh the options carefully and consider your circumstances before making this important choice.

Determine the Optimal Time to Begin Receiving Social Security Benefits

If you’re unsure about when to start your Social Security benefits, you can use the Social Security Explorer, a feature within the New Retirement Planner.

This tool allows you to compare your monthly income and potential maximum lifetime payout at various ages, helping you make an informed decision.

Alternatively, you can consider the following guidelines:

  1. Taking Benefits Early: If you find yourself in urgent need of money or anticipate not living very long due to health reasons, it might make sense to take your Social Security benefits early.
  2. Taking Benefits at Full Retirement Age: If you have reason to believe that your life expectancy is not likely to exceed age 80, generally, it’s advisable to claim your benefits when you reach your Full Retirement Age. This choice typically maximizes your Social Security benefits.
  3. Delaying Benefits as Long as Possible: On the contrary, if you have confidence in living well into your 80s or even beyond, most experts recommend deferring your Social Security benefits for as long as you can, ideally until age 70. This strategy aims to maximize the total benefits you receive over your lifetime.
  4. Special Consideration for Dependents: If you have dependent children, the additional benefits you receive for them might make it worthwhile to file for Social Security when you’re younger.

In addition to these guidelines, it’s essential to develop an overall retirement plan before finalizing your Social Security benefit start date.

The New Retirement Retirement Planner can assist you in evaluating all your sources of retirement income and help determine whether you’ll have sufficient funds to cover your expenses in retirement.

Notably, this tool has received recognition as a top retirement calculator from the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII), making it a valuable resource for your retirement planning needs.

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