How to Apply for Social Security

It is recommended to start the Social Security application process for your retirement benefits three months before you want your payments to start. The most secure way to apply for Social Security benefits is in-person at your local SSA office, but alternative methods exist.

In most cases, once your application is submitted, you're done. There are no forms to sign and usually no further documentation is required. Social Security will process your application and contact you if any further information is needed.

Who Can Apply for Retirement Benefits?

Before you submit an application for retirement benefits, there are certain Social Security basics you should familiarize yourself with. The eligibility requirements are often the most important of these.

Social Security Benefit Eligibility

It's important to make sure that you're eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. The following guide will help you determine whether you qualify.

Social Security Eligibility

Documents Required to Apply for Social Security Benefits

The SSA may need to see certain documents in order to pay benefits. If you apply online, a list of documents needed will appear at the end of the Social Security application, along with instructions on where to submit them. Documents that might be needed are:

  • Your original birth certificate or other proof of birth. You may also submit a copy of your birth certificate certified by the issuing agency.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States.
  • A copy of your U.S. military service paper(s) (e.g., DD-214 - Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) if you had military service before 1968, and;
  • A copy of your W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax return for last year.

The Application Process

Once it comes time to actually apply for Social Security benefits, you can proceed in one of three ways.

Apply for Social Security In-Person

This is often the most popular method of applying for Social Security benefits, as it provides security and peace of mind when it comes to the transmission of important documents. Plus, when you're present at an SSA office, you can be sure that everything was submitted properly.

Apply for Social Security by Phone

You may be able to apply for Social Security by phone, and in some cases, such as if you're applying for survivors' benefits, applying online is not an option and calling is necessary.

  • Step 1: Have the appropriate documents and information ready.
  • Step 2: Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Apply for Social Security Online

Applying for Social Security Online may not provide the same peace-of-mind as applying in-person or over the phone, but it is often the most convenient method, as it doesn't require you to leave the home.

  • Step 1: Have the appropriate documents and information ready.
  • Step 2: Navigate to the SSA website's online application to begin the process.

Further Information About Your Application

Your 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 you can start benefits
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.

Working while you receive benefits
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
Delayed retirement credits may be added 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.

Applying for Other Social Security Programs

Once you have been approved for benefits, see if you are eligible for other Social Security programs.

Apply for SSI

Supplemental Security Income provides payment to low income people who are blind, have a disability or age 65 or older. For more information, use the button below.

How to Apply for SSI

Apply for Medicare

If you're in a low income situation you may qualify for Medicare, a program designed to assist with the cost of health care. For more information, use the button below.

How to Apply for Medicare