Social Security Retirement Benefits: When and How to Apply

Why It Matters:

  • Know when and how to apply for Social Security benefits.
  • Discover online tools to help you estimate how much you’ll receive from Social Security each month.
  • Learn more about the types of documents and pieces of information you’ll need to gather before you start the application process.

Greg Glasgow tkc.profilePicture Written by: Greg Glasgow | Transamerica
Sept. 09, 2019

4 Min readClock Icon

You’ve been paying into it all your working life, and now it’s time to take the most fundamental step when it comes to Social Security: actually applying for benefits.

To apply, you must be at least 61 years, nine months old, but keep in mind that the later you file, the more money you will receive on a monthly basis. Full retirement age is 65 to 67 years old, depending on the year you were born. The latest you can start receiving benefits is age 70.

To get you started, we’ll walk you through what to expect in the application process.

Gather documents:

Be sure you have access to the following before you apply:

  • Social Security card or a record of your number.
  • Original birth certificate or other proof of birth.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status (if you weren’t born in the U.S.).
  • Copy of military discharge papers if you served in the military.
  • Copy of W-2 form(s) or self-employment tax return for last year.
  • Your spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security number if they’re applying for benefits.
  • Your children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers, if you’re applying for children’s benefits.
  • The name of your financial institution, the routing number, and your account number for direct deposit.

Apply in person

If you prefer face-to-face interactions, you can apply in person at your local Social Security office. To avoid long wait times, make sure you call to make an appointment first. There is a locator tool on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website that will direct you to your local office.

Apply by phone

To apply for benefits by phone, call 800-772-1213. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing and prefer to use a teletypewriter device (TTY) should call 800-325-0778.

Apply online

If you’re comfortable applying online, you can do so by following this link. Unlike the in-person and phone options, there won’t be anyone there to walk you through the application process. If you are applying for survivor benefits you cannot do so online, and should contact your local office.

Reminders from the SSA:

  • If you are already age 62, you may be able to start your benefits in the month you apply.
  • Apply for benefits no more than four months before the date you want your benefits to start.
  • Benefits are paid the month after they’re due. (If your benefits start in April, you will receive your first benefit payment in May).
  • If you are not getting Social Security and you are not ready to retire, you should still use the SSA’s online retirement benefit application to sign up for just Medicare three months before your 65th birthday.
  • You can go to the SSA website to set up a secure “my Social Security” account that allows you to check your earnings, get your benefit estimates, request a replacement Social Security card and change your address, phone number, and direct deposit information.

Visit the Social Security Administration’s website for complete information on all Social Security benefits.

Things to Consider:

  • Make sure you have or can get all the documents and information you need to apply.
  • Use the SSA’s online Retirement Planner to estimate your benefits if you retire early, estimate your life expectancy, find out about Medicare, and more.
  • Decide whether you’re comfortable applying online or would prefer to apply in person at a Social Security office.



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