How to Apply for Social Security

Social Security is a program that provides a stipend each month for living expenses to Americans who are retired or disabled.

The benefits can often be extended to family members, as well. Currently it is estimated that one out of every four households receives some type of income from Social Security.

The basic premise of the program is that workers pay into the system while they are still able-bodied working and upon retirement they draw out a monthly income. This is different from a company pension.

Currently, the average benefit payouts are:

  • $1391 a month for qualified retirees.
  • $1,3071 for widows or widowers over 60 years of age.
  • $1172 a month for the disabled.
  • $2,664 for a widowed mother with at least two children.

Approximately 47 million retired workers or their families receive Social Security benefits. However, not everyone qualifies for Social Security benefits. There are age requirements, work requirements and citizenship requirements that must all be met.

Once you determine you are eligible to apply, the following information can help you to gather the necessary documentation and fill out the application in less than thirty minutes.

Who Can Apply for Social Security Benefits?

Because of legislation passed in 1983, the full retirement age is now 66 years of age, but you will receive only 80 percent of the full benefits. You can technically take early retirement at age 61 and nine months of age, but the amount you would receive would be much lower than if you waited.

The law allows for the retirement age to increase over time. For example, if you were born in 1955, then the early retirement benefits are available at age 66. If you were born in 1960, then the age of retirement is 67. This means there is an advantage to postponing retirement or applying for Social Security benefits too early in your life.

You will receive a monthly benefit percent higher for each year you delay claiming your benefits, and benefits claimed at age 70 would be 24 percent higher. However, the law does cap that total monthly income at $3,538.

Other requirements include the following:

  • Being 61 years and nine months of age.
  • Not already receiving benefits from Social Security.
  • Worked at least 10 years or have earned 40 work credits.

Learn About Documents You Will Need to Apply for Social Security

There are a number of documents that will make applying for Social Security faster and easier. Gather the following documents:

  • Birth certificate showing date and place of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Current health insurance information or policy
  • Employer, if applicable
  • Marriage and divorce papers
  • Name of current spouse and name of former spouse, if applicable
  • Social Security number (SSN) for current and former spouses
  • Names, birthdates and SSN for children who are still dependents
  • Military dates of service and service numbers
  • Banking information, including routing and account number for direct deposit
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • Tax returns for last year

Learn About the Types of Benefits You Can Apply For

You can apply for Social Security benefits for yourself or receive partial benefits as a result of your spouse or former spouse retiring. However, some of the same eligibility rules apply. You must be at least 61 and nine months old and want the benefits to start no more than four months in the future.

There are also social security benefits that are available to the disabled, children and survivors. Determine which of these you will apply for:

  • Social Security Retirement for yourself. This is the traditional Social Security that most workers qualify for.
  • Social Security Retirement benefits from your spouse. These benefits are available to you if you were or married for at least 10 years. In most cases, you will be eligible to draw 50 percent of your spouse’s or former spouse’s benefit amount.
  • Supplemental Social Security Income includes benefits that are offered to those who are disabled or to children in households with limited income. It is also offered to those who are 65 years of age or older who meet the financial limits.
  • Survivor’s Social Security are Social Security benefits that are offered to the surviving offspring and/or spouse of a deceased individual who qualified for Social Security.

All of these types of Social Security benefits can be applied for online with the exception of the Survivor’s Social Security. This must be done in person at your local Social Security office, or by calling 1-800-772-1213.

Find Out About the Social Security Benefits Submission Process

Once you have gathered all of your documentation together and have determined which type of Social Security benefits you will apply for, the process to submit an application does not take too long. The quickest way to apply is to do so online. You can do this through the official Social Security Administration website.

You can also go into your local Social Security office and apply in person, or you can call the 800 number listed below and have someone fill it out for you over the phone.

How to apply online:

  • Navigate to the Social Security Administration’s official website.
  • Click on the type of Social Security for which you would like to apply.
  • Select the option to “Apply for Retirement Benefits”.
  • Fill in the required information using your gathered documents.
  • Click on the “submit” button upon completion.

How to apply by phone:

  • Call 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and p.m.
  • Answer the questions posed to you by the representative.

How to apply in person:

  • Locate your nearest Social Security Office.
  • Call to make an appointment.
  • Take all required documentation to your appointment.

What happens after you submit your social security application?

If you have submitted your application online, you will be asked to electronically sign the form before you submit it. Once you do you it can take several weeks for it to be processed. Generally you will be paid in the month that follows verification.

For example, if you were considered eligible in May, you would not receive your benefits until June. This wait time is the same for all submission types. Keep in mind that if any of the information is not valid or incorrect it could result in the benefits being denied and you will have to resubmit the form again.

Sometimes the SSA asks you to provide more information so that they can validate information on your form.


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