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How to Apply for Social Security Benefits


Photo credit: jb

There are three methods you can use to apply for Social Security retirement benefits. And since you’re reading this article you’re likely overwhelmed by the prospect and don’t know where to start, so here’s how to apply:

By Phone – call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 between the hours of 8am and 7pm (they don’t say, but I’m assuming this is Eastern time) to apply. You can also call 1-800-325-0778 for TTY service, if you require it. Advice from the Social Security site indicates that there are often long wait times, and that early in the day is typically better (8am to 10am) with somewhat shorter waits. Later in the week and later in the month are generally shorter wait times as well. In other words, calling at 3pm on Monday the 1st of the month is likely going to result in very long wait times on the phone.

In Person – just show up at your local Social Security Administration office, or call to set up an appointment at your local office (this is probably the better option, for less wait time). You can find the closest office by clicking this link and entering your ZIP code.  From what I hear, visiting the local office can be a hit or miss experience, similar to visiting the DMV to get your driver’s license renewed. You could get right in with little wait, but more likely you’ll spend quite a bit of time “in queue”. Here’s a tip though: if you can work it out, I understand that the day after Thanksgiving is the best day of all to visit the local SSA office. They’re open and operating, but nobody expects them to be. It’s worth a try.

Also, you’re not required to go to only the nearest office. If there’s another office nearby that is perhaps not as busy as your closest office, try getting an appointment there.

Much like the phone queue, Mondays and the first week of the month, or the day after a federal holiday are the busiest times for these offices. Also, like every other people-intensive business, Social Security has staffing shortages that tends to cause longer wait times in the office.

Online – you can go to the Social Security website and there, right in the middle of the page, is a link to “Apply for benefits”. You can use this online application if you’re at least 61 years and 9 months of age, and you plan to begin your benefits within the next four months (you also live in the US or one of its commonwealths or territories). If you’ve already set up your mySocialSecurity account, you should be able to just log in to the system and get started. Otherwise, you’ll need to set up your account, which might take a while to complete the process.

If you’re already age 62 or better, you could begin receiving benefits as early as the month you apply. In addition, if you’re at least 64 years, 8 months of age, your online Social Security benefit application will automatically include applying for Medicare.

Things you’ll need before you start the process, no matter which method you use:

  • Your date and place of birth and Social Security number;
  • Your bank or other financial institution’s Routing Transit Number and the account number, if you want the benefits electronically deposited. You can get this information from a check or deposit slip;
  • The amount of money earned last year and this year. If you are filing for benefits in the months of September through December, you will also need to estimate next year’s earnings;
  • The name and address of your employer(s) for this year and last year;
  • The beginning and ending dates of any active U.S. military service you had before 1968;
  • The name, Social Security number and date of birth or age of your current spouse and any former spouse. You should also know the dates and places of marriage and dates of divorce or death (if appropriate); and
  • A copy of your Social Security Statement, or access to the online version. Even if the earnings on your Statement are not correct or you are not sure if they are correct, please fill out the application. The Social Security Administration will assist you in reviewing and correcting your record after they receive the application.

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