9 Must-Know Tips for Applying for Social Security Benefits

One out of every five people in the U.S. (that’s 61 million people) currently collects Social Security benefits. There’s no question these benefits are extremely beneficial – however, before you can benefit, you have to be approved.

This is when things may get somewhat challenging.

If you are trying to acquire Social Security benefits, you may think the process is too challenging. It doesn’t have to be. With the tips here, you can be one step closer to getting the benefits you want, need, and deserve.

1. Begin the Application Process 3 Months Before You Want Payments

While it doesn’t take three months to be approved (or denied) for Social Security benefits, if you begin the process early, it gives you time to fix any issues that may arise. For example, you may have to find your military discharge form or another set of documents needed for approval.

If you want to begin collecting benefits on your 66th birth month, then go to the Social Security office at least three months before. Social Security only gives retroactive benefits six months prior, so don’t wait past this point if you want to begin your benefits on your 66th birth month.

2. Make Sure You are Eligible

It’s important to remember, not all conditions are the same. The SSA (Social Security Administration) has a very strict definition explaining what’s considered “disability.” If you are trying to receive disability benefits, then you have to have a severe impairment that’s going to last for a minimum of 12 months or that is going to result in death.

You also have to be under retirement age (usually 66 to 67) and you must have paid FICA taxes for five of the previous 10 years. After all, once you reach retirement age, you are able to receive Social Security Benefits, if approved.

There are several free eligibility screenings you can use to make sure you meet the requirements for SSDI benefits. When you are aware of the requirements – regardless of the Social Security Benefits you need – it can increase your odds of being approved.

3. Many Claims Can be Completed Online

You don’t have to (always) apply in person to get Social Security benefits. In fact, you can handle most of the process online.

You will find online applications for both retirement benefits, Social Security Disability benefits, and more. In most cases, these applications only take 20 to 30 minutes to fill out.

Applying for online benefits can help you save time, and if more information is needed, someone will get in touch with you.

Working with a Real Person

If you prefer to work with a real, live person, you can still apply in person. But, if you decide this is the route you want to take, don’t walk into the local office cold. You may face a two-hour or longer wait.

It’s a good idea to set up an appointment first.

4. Plan and Budget Carefully

While every case is different, it can take some time for your Social Security benefits to be approved. This is true regardless of if you are applying for retirement benefits, disability benefits, or something else.

If you don’t plan carefully for a potentially long wait, you may be like the many people who lose their savings, cars, retirement funds, and even their homes.

You should work to reduce how much you are spending as you wait for the approval.

While you are waiting to learn if you are going to begin receiving benefits, you may find it challenging to make ends meet. As a result, it’s a good idea to begin practicing new spending habits. You need to take some time to reassess your purchasing decisions and your budget.

Keep in mind both retirement and disability benefits from the Social Security Administration are going to put food on your table and help you retain your livelihood; they aren’t going to replace the full salary you once earned.

Making this transition is going to require some lifestyle adjustments (in many cases). Think about finding out if there are any organizations in your community that can provide assistance with housing, utilities, and food.

5. Understand the two “Gotcha” Questions

When you are applying for Social Security benefits, there are two questions that seem to confuse individuals. These include:

  • If you are eligible to receive a retirement benefit and a spouse’s benefit, would you want to delay the receipt of your retirement benefit?
  • When do you want your benefits to start?

There are many people who are confused by the initial question. They don’t know they are eligible for multiple benefits, and others don’t understand the question at all.

Keep in mind, this question only applies to individuals who are considered eligible to restrict the application’s cope to spousal benefits only, or what some call filing a restricted application. This is something that only applies to individuals who were born before January 1st, 1954.

Individuals who only want to receive spousal benefits need to answer “yes” to this question. If you respond with “no,” then your own benefits are going to start.

The second “gotcha” question is pre-populated with the earliest date you can begin receiving benefits. If you begin to fill out the application four months before you want your benefits to begin, then you need to change the date in the field.

If you have created a strategy to claim your benefits, especially if it is coordinating retirement and spousal benefits, entering the wrong date may cost thousands of dollars or more, and ruin the strategy.

6. Make Sure You Have a Bank Account

It is now required by the Social Security Administration that all recipients have a bank account. This is so benefits can be directly deposited into their accounts.

If you don’t have a bank account, it may be a good idea to think about opening one, or to speak to someone at the SSA about other options. In some cases, you can use a DirectExpress debit card, or seek an exemption from the Department of the Treasury.

7. Make Use of the Comment Section

A potential Social Security beneficiary needs to always use the comments section close to the end of the application to outline what their specific intentions are. If they are attempting to file a restricted application, then they need to state this here.

If the applicant is trying to collect the divorced spouse benefits at their full retirement age and then, at a later date, switch to their own down the road, this needs to be put in the comments. This section is designed for you to outline your intent in case there’s a problem in the processing.

8. Know How to Handle a Mistake

If you have discovered a mistake when you are filing, the sooner you address it, the better. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to make a correction and it requires quite a bit of additional documentation.

It’s a good idea for any client who files in person or over the phone to record the person who helped with the filing process and have that individual read back all the questions and answers. It’s also a good idea to document these conversations with times and dates.

9. Understand that Filing for Social Security Disability is Challenging

While filing for Social Security benefits for any reason can be challenging, filing for disability benefits is the hardest. The SSA requires a large amount of information about your specific medical issue or condition.

The good news is, there’s a trick of the trade that can help save you quite a bit of work – if there’s one doctor or even a hospital with all of your information, just include that source and the SSA will have everything that’s needed.

The next step is to wait. It can take months – or longer – to have a disability claim approved.

Getting Social Security Benefits: The Path of Least Resistance

If you are trying to acquire Social Security benefits, the tips here are going to help make the process easier and less stressful. It’s also a good idea to reach out to your local Social Security office if you have issues or questions.

Regardless of what type of benefits you are trying to acquire, knowing what to do and how to do it is essential. Today, there are millions of people who rely on Social Security, and if you need to use this system to help support yourself and your family, knowing how to get through the process as quickly and easily as possible is invaluable. Come check out our blog to learn how to apply for social security benefits today!

Elliot Marks

Elliot Marks

Author & Social Security Advisor

Elliot Marks has spent over 10 years providing clear and concise information to help Americans navigate the complex nuances of social security and many other government services in the United States. Elliot has a passion for helping those in need of these services to be able to find timely access to news and information that is relevant and helpful to their daily lives.