Apply For Social Security Benefits

Currently there are 3 different ways you can apply for your Social Security benefits. Instructions to do all 3 are listed below, which is by phone, in person or online. The SSA highly recommends to apply through their online system, as it is easier to do it this way and it is easier for them to view and keep track in case you have questions or issues during the application process. If you need assistance or have questions about your application, please use our Social Security Office Locator to find a location near you.

What you need to know before you apply for Social Security benefits

Before applying for your retirement benefits, there are specific basics you need to know about:

  • Full Retirement Age
    Depending on your date of birth, that may be between age 66 and 67. This could affect the amount of your benefits and when you want the benefits to start.
  • When benefits start
    You may start receiving benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70.
  • Benefits are reduced for age
    Your monthly benefits will be reduced if you start them any time before full retirement age.
  • Receiving benefits while working
    If you elect to receive benefits before you reach full retirement age, you should understand how continuing to work can affect your benefits.
  • Delayed retirement credits
    These credits may be added to your benefits if they start after your full retirement age.
  • Life expectancy
    If you live to the average life expectancy for someone your age, you will receive about the same amount in lifetime benefits whether you choose to start receiving benefits at age 62, full retirement age, age 70 or any age in between. However, many of us will live much longer than the average retiree, and most women live longer than men.

    More than one in three 65 year olds today will live to age 90, and more than one in seven will live to age 95. Social Security benefits, which last as long as you live, provide valuable protection against outliving savings and other sources of retirement income. Again, you'll want to choose a retirement age based on your circumstances so you'll have enough income when you need it.
When to apply for Social Security benefits

Generally, you should apply for retirement benefits four months before you want your benefits to begin.

  • If you were born before 1938 and you met all other requirements, you could receive benefits beginning with the first full month you were age 62. However, if you chose to begin receiving benefits before age 65, your benefits were reduced to account for the longer period over which you'll be paid.
  • If you were born after 1937, you also can start your Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but your full retirement age is more than 65.

Even if you don't plan to receive benefits right away, or decide to wait until after you reach full retirement age, you still should sign-up for Medicare three months before your 65th birthday.

Choosing the month you start to get benefits is an important decision. If you plan to continue working after you reach age 62, it may be to your advantage to start your retirement benefits before you stop working.

Documents you need when applying for Social Security

When applying for your benefits, they will need the following from you:

  • Your social security number
  • Birth certificate. If you don't have one, then you can get one from the state where you were born in
  • Your W-2 forms or self-employment tax return for last year
  • Military discharge papers if you served in the military
  • Your spouse's birth certificate and Social Security number if they are applying for benefits
  • Children's birth certificates and Social Security numbers, if they're applying for children's benefits
  • Proof of US citizenship or lawful alien status if you, or a spouse or child applying for benefits, were not born in the US
  • Your bank information (Bank name and account number) so you can receive your benefits through direct deposit

The SSA will need original documents or copies certified by the issuing office. You can mail or bring them to your local Social Security office. They will photocopy and return your documents. It's important that you don't delay your retirement due to not having all the documents needed. The representatives in your local office will help you.

How to use the online benefits application form

Below are the steps on how to use the SSA online application process. If you have any questions or issues about the online process, please feel free to contact your local Social Security office for assistance.

  • 1. To get started go to Apply for Retirement Benefits
    You'll go through a series of screens that will ask you questions about yourself, your family, and your work.
  • 2. Fill out the online application
    You can complete your application in a single session or start the application now and finish it sometime later. If you get stuck on a question, you can skip it and go back later. When you get to the end of the application, they will let you know if there are any questions you still need to answer. If you can't complete your online application because you need to look something up, or for any other reason, you can go back to your saved application later without losing the information you entered.
  • 3. The final step in the online application process is to sign the application electronically by clicking on the Submit Now button. It will appear on the screen after you have finished filling out the application.

After you completely fill out the application, they will ask you to confirm the truthfulness of the answers to the best of your knowledge, under penalty of perjury, and your response will be recorded. You can be held liable for intentionally providing false or misleading information.

Please note, the only person who can sign the application is the person who is applying for benefits. A legal representative or person helping cannot sign the application. If you want to help someone else apply online, click here.

Why you should apply for retirement benefits online

Using the SSA online application has several benefits. They are:

  • You can avoid trips to your local Social Security office. That saves you time and money
  • You can answer questions on your schedule. You don't have to complete the application the same day that you started it. You can start and stop the application without losing any of the information you entered
  • If you have any mistakes, this allows you a chance to correct them. You can go back and make changes until you finish the application. You'll also be given a chance to review your answers and go back and make corrections before you submit the application
  • If you have trouble answering any of the questions, you can find additional information in their [More Info] links
  • You don't need to mail in your application. When finished, just click the "Submit Now" button to send your application to Social Security
  • You'll get a receipt for your online application. You can print the receipt and keep for your records
  • You can check the status of your online application. Your receipt includes a confirmation number you can use to check the status of your application

However, if you choose to apply for benefits more than two months in the future, you will not be able to check the status of your application until one month before you start receiving benefits.

What happens after you apply for Social Security benefits

Once they receive your application, they will review it. After they review your application they will contact you if they need more information or if they need to see your documents. Other things they may let you know about:

  • You may be able to receive benefits on another person's record, such as your spouse
  • Other family members may be able to receive benefits on your work record

When the SSA has all of the necessary information and documents they will process your application and send you a letter about their decision through the mail.

Other ways to apply for Social Security benefits

If you do not want to apply for your retirement benefits online, then you can apply using the following alternative ways:

  • By phone
    Call 1-800-772-1213. (TTY 1-800-325-0778) from 7am to 7pm Monday through Friday
  • In person
    Visit a office. You can use our Social Security Office Locator to find a office near you.

This site is not affiliated with the SSA or any other government services.