How To Apply For Social Security In 3 Easy Steps

Application for social security

You may have already started calculating your Social Security benefits as you approach retirement age. Most people estimate these benefits before retirement to ensure they have enough money in their monthly budget. When retirement finally rolls around, you will need to start your Social Security retirement benefits. But how do you let the Social Security Administration (SSA) know that you are ready to start receiving your benefits? You will need to apply for benefits! The application process is not overly complex for most people, but there are required steps and documentation that must be followed. Keep reading as we tell you what you need to do to apply for Social Security in just three easy steps.


How To Apply For Social Security Retirement Benefits

The time has finally come to enter your retirement years, and you are ready to start your Social Security benefits. So, how do you do that? You will need to apply for benefits, although that process is not extremely difficult. Here is how you do it.


Step 1: Verify Your Eligibility

You will first want to make sure that you are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. Remember how Social Security works? You must have a sufficient work record and earnings history to qualify for retirement benefits. You must also have paid Social Security taxes properly while working to qualify for benefits. This is especially important if you are self-employed. Generally, you need 40 work credits to qualify for benefits, and you can earn up to four credits each year. So, most people need to work for at least ten years to qualify for benefits on their own. You do not necessarily need to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for benefits, but you must have paid into the system to qualify. If you think you may qualify, then go ahead and proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Gather Required Documents

You will need to provide some documentation along with your application, so you should go ahead and gather those documents before starting your application. First, you will need to provide basic information, such as your full legal name, date of birth, place of birth, Social Security number, dates of current and previous marriages, military service dates, bank account information for direct deposit, and names of family members who might qualify for benefits based on your work record.

In addition, you will need original documents from the issuing agency that prove some of your information. Photocopies will not suffice. You will likely need your U.S. birth certificate to prove your age, Social Security card, military service papers, and prior year W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns. You will also need proof of U.S. citizenship or proof of your citizenship status, such as your original birth certificate or certificate of naturalization. Once you have located these documents, it is time to move on to completing the application.

Step 3: Complete Application

Finally, you will need to complete the application for benefits. There are a few different ways you can complete the application, and we will discuss those in more detail in the next section of this article. However, you should know that you will need to provide quite a bit of information on the application. You will need obvious information, like your name, mailing address, SSN, and date of birth. There are also some other pieces of information required on the benefits application that you might not expect.

You will need to provide your place of birth, names and Social Security numbers of current and previous spouses; the name and address of your current employer; and earnings records. The Social Security Administration will also need to know whether you or anyone on your behalf has ever applied for any other Social Security or Medicare benefits. Once your application has been submitted, the Social Security Administration will notify you if they need additional documentation to process your application. You can use the SSA’s online services to track the status of your application.


Social Security Application Process: A Detailed View

A couple applying for Social Security online.

We mentioned above that there are multiple ways you can complete your application for benefits. The process for each method is slightly different. Here are the ways to complete an application and what you need to do for each.

  • Online Application

The quickest and easiest way to apply for Social Security benefits is by using their online application process. You can create a  my Social Security account and complete your application online. You will still be asked to provide all the information on the application form, and you can also create a saved application to finish later. Once you submit your online application, you will receive a confirmation number and a receipt. If any additional documents are required, the Social Security Administration will notify you of the missing documents. The fastest way to get approved for benefits is usually to apply online.

  • Telephone Application

If you do not have access to a computer to complete your application online, you may complete your application over the phone. You should call the Social Security Administration toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to apply. Representatives are available Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM. You will be required to provide proof of your identity when applying over the phone, and you will likely need to submit original documents to the SSA to complete your application.

  • In-Person Application

The final option for applying for benefits is in person at your local Social Security office. A local Social Security representative can help you complete the application, and you can present all the required documents to this person. An in-person application can take a few hours, and it is helpful to make an appointment at the Social Security office. While Social Security offices are once again accepting walk-ins, you might find yourself waiting for a long time if you do not have a Social Security appointment. The benefit of applying in person is that the Social Security representative can easily look up your Social Security record during the application process.


The Best Time To Apply For Social Security Benefits

So, when should you apply for benefits? You can start your retirement benefits as early as age 62, but starting your benefits this soon will lead to a big reduction in your monthly payments. In most cases, you should wait as long as possible to start your benefits. The amount that Social Security pays depends on both your earnings record and your age. Most people reach full retirement age at either 66 or 67, but you can increase your payments even more if you wait longer. Accruing delayed retirement credits will increase your payments. Those credits max out at age 70, so your benefit is as big as it will ever be when you reach 70 years old. You should perform a complete review of your retirement situation to determine if waiting until age 70; to apply for your benefits and start receiving monthly payments, is right for you.


Applying For Other Social Security Benefits

An elderly couple looking up information about Social Security on


Now you know how to apply for Social Security retirement benefits, but what about other benefits offered through the Social Security Administration? Here is how you can apply for other benefits.

  • Spousal Benefits

The easiest way to apply for spousal benefits is online through your My Social Security account. You can also apply over the phone or in person. You will need to provide much of the same information as is required when applying for your own retirement benefits. In fact, now that the Social Security spousal benefit loopholes are closed, an application for benefits qualifies as an application for all benefits to which you are entitled. This means that if you are entitled to both spousal benefits and your own benefits, you will receive the higher of the two. You can no longer apply specifically for spousal benefits while allowing your own benefits to grow.

  • Social Security Disability

Are you wondering how to apply for disability? You can now apply for SSDI benefits online, and this is the quickest and easiest way to apply. If you cannot apply online, you can submit your application over the phone or in person at your local Social Security office. Many applications for SSDI are initially denied, and you might need to file an appeal to get approved for benefits. Many people choose to hire an attorney to help them through this process.

  • Supplemental Security Income

Most SSI applications must be completed in person. You can start your application online, but many applicants will be required to finish the application in person. Similarly, you can make a telephone appointment to start an application over the phone, but your application will almost always need to be finished in person at your local Social Security office.

  • Medicare

If you are already receiving Social Security benefits when you turn 65, you won’t need to apply for Medicare Part A at all because you will be automatically enrolled. Otherwise, you will need to apply for Medicare when you turn 65. You may complete the Medicare application online, over the phone, or in person. As with other benefits, the quickest and easiest way to submit your application is online.


The Bottom Line

Applying for Social Security is not difficult, but you must go through the application process to start receiving your benefits. You may submit your application online, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security office. You will likely need to submit a few documents with your application, and original documents are required. Applying for disability benefits, Medicare, spousal benefits, or other benefits through the Social Security Administration generally follows the same basic process.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best way to apply for Social Security?

The best way to apply for Social Security is by completing the online application. If you cannot complete the application at once, you can save your application and complete it at a later time. The online application typically leads to the fastest processing, which means that your benefits will start sooner. If you are unable to submit an application online, you can also complete your application over the phone or in person.

How long after I apply for Social Security, will I get it?

If you are wondering when to apply for Social Security, you should give yourself a little time.  In most cases, you can expect to start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits within three months of applying. If you fail to provide the required documents when requested, the process might take longer. Disability benefits usually take longer than retirement benefits because many disability applications are initially denied. In some cases, it could take up to two years from the date of your application until you start receiving SSDI benefits.

What documents do I need to apply for Social Security?

You will usually need your U.S. birth certificate, Social Security card, last year’s tax records, and earnings records. While you will be asked to provide much more information than this, these are the documents that are most commonly required. If other documents are necessary to process your application, the Social Security Administration will notify you of those requirements.

Will I have to pay anything when I apply for Social Security?

No, there is no charge to apply for Social Security. However, you should avoid applying if you know for sure that you do not qualify. For example, if you have no work history and do not qualify for spousal benefits, then it would not make sense to apply for retirement benefits. However, if you think that you might qualify, then go ahead and apply since there is no application fee.