What Documents Do I Need To Apply For Social Security? Make Sure You’re Prepared

Two social security cards on top of a birth certificate.

If you are nearing retirement age, you might already be thinking about applying for Social Security benefits. The Social Security application process is not extremely complex, but it does require some specific documentation to go along with your application. It is a good idea to go ahead and gather the required documents before you start your Social Security application. Getting your documents ready ahead of time will help the application process go more quickly and smoothly. Keep reading as we give you all the details.


Documents Needed To Apply For Social Security Retirement Benefits

So, what are the documents needed to apply for Social Security benefits? The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires several documents to go along with your application for retirement benefits. The documents can vary slightly, depending on your specific situation. However, if you gather all the following documents before starting your application, you should be in a great spot. Also, remember that original documents are generally required, and photocopies are not usually accepted. Here are the documents you need to locate:


  • Social Security Card Or Social Security Number

This requirement should be pretty obvious. You will need to provide your SSN to the Social Security Administration when you apply for benefits. Your Social Security number is used by the SSA to track your earnings record, and this record will determine the amount of your benefit payments each month. Although sometimes just knowing your Social Security number will suffice, there might be other instances where you need to provide your SSN card.

If you have lost your Social Security card, you can request a replacement card from the Social Security Administration. If you have a My Social Security account, you can request your replacement online. You should know that there are a handful of states that do not allow online replacement requests, so you will need to visit your local Social Security office to get a replacement in that case. Replacement requests typically take a couple of weeks to process, and you should receive your new card in the mail at your home address.


  • Birth Certificate

Remember that you must be a certain age to receive Social Security retirement benefits, and your payment amount is also dependent on your age. Therefore, you will need to prove your date of birth when applying for benefits. For this reason, you must submit your U.S. birth certificate to the Social Security Administration when you apply for benefits. Remember that an original birth certificate is generally required, and photocopies will not usually be accepted. A certified copy from the issuing agency will usually work as well.

If you cannot locate your birth certificate, you will need to contact your state’s Department of Health to get a replacement. In some cases, you might be able to contact the hospital where you were born for assistance with getting a replacement. For those who were born abroad to U.S. citizen parents, your birth was likely recorded with the U.S. embassy in the country where you were born. In that case, you might need to contact the U.S. Department of State to get a replacement birth certificate.

For those who have no birth certificate, a religious record or report of birth from your religious organization might work in some cases. You should contact the Social Security Administration for more details about using religious records to prove your age.

In addition to your birth certificate, you will likely also be asked to provide an identification card. A U.S. driver’s license is the most common identity document used when you apply for retirement benefits.


  • Proof Of U.S. Citizenship

You will need to prove your citizenship status or permanent resident status to the Social Security Administration when applying for benefits. If you were born in the United States and provided a U.S. birth certificate to prove your age, then you should be good to go. However, if you were not born in the United States, you will need to provide other documentation.

There are a few different documents that can be used to provide your citizenship status. A U.S. passport will suffice, as will a certificate of naturalization. A permanent resident card can also be used to prove your immigration status to the Social Security Administration. Remember that you will need to provide original documents, so you might want to visit your local Social Security Administration when applying for benefits so that you don’t have to send these documents in the mail.


  • Military Service Records

In some cases, you might be asked to provide proof of your service in the military. Generally, this requirement only applies to those who served before 1968. You might be asked to provide your discharge papers or your certificate of release from service. In this case, you are not always required to provide original documents. Photocopies might work when it comes to military service records. If you mail these documents to the Social Security Administration, they will be returned to you. However, there is always the risk of these important documents getting lost in the mail.


  • Tax Returns

When you apply for benefits, you will need to provide a copy of your W-2 form or your self-employment tax returns from the previous year. Photocopies of these documents are accepted, so there is no need to provide originals. The Social Security Administration may use these for employment verification purposes or to determine whether your benefits will be reduced because you are still working.


  • Spousal Records

You might be applying for spousal benefits or survivor benefits that use the earnings record of your spouse or former spouse. In that case, you will need to provide some documentation proving your relationship. This documentation could include a marriage license or a divorce decree. If you do not have these documents, you will likely need to contact the county in which you were married or divorced for assistance. They can help you get a copy of your marriage license or divorce decree. Since the divorce decree is a court order, you might need the help of an attorney to get a replacement copy.


How To Qualify For Social Security Benefits

A newly printed social security card ready to be mailed.

Now that you know what documents you will need when you apply for benefits, let’s discuss what you need to do to qualify for benefits. The two biggest criteria are your age and work history. To get Social Security retirement benefits, you must have a work history and an earnings record. Think about how Social Security works. You must have paid Social Security taxes into the system to receive benefits when you retire. Generally, you must have worked for at least ten years to qualify for benefits. The longer you work and the more money you make while working, the higher your benefits will be.

You must be at least 62 years old to start your retirement benefits, although there are a few exceptions that allow you to start your benefits sooner. Even if you don’t have enough work credits on your own, you can qualify for spousal benefits based on the work record of your spouse or former spouse. As long as your spouse receives Social Security benefits, you can receive spousal benefits upon turning 62. However, you should know that your benefits will be reduced if you start them before reaching your full retirement age.


Documents Needed To Apply For SSI Benefits

Qualifying for Supplemental Security Income benefits does not require a work history, although a financial need is necessary. Here are the documents you will need when you apply for SSI benefits. Many of the documents are the same as the documents needed to apply for retirement benefits. You will need your birth certificate, identification card, Social Security card, and citizenship record. If your place of birth was outside the United States, you would likely need to show your immigration documents or Form I-94.

In addition, eligibility for SSI benefits requires financial need. So, you will also need to present proof of your income and resources. This might include bank statements, W-2 forms, payroll stubs, income tax returns, insurance policies, deeds to property, and other financial documents. Since you must have limited income and resources to qualify for SSI, the Social Security Administration will need to verify your financial status.


Documents Required To Obtain A Social Security Card

Applying for Social Security benefits usually assumes that you already have a Social Security card. So, what do you need to get a Social Security card? The answer often depends on whether you simply need a replacement or you need to apply for your first card. Getting a replacement Social Security card is usually pretty easy. You can request a replacement online as long as you are not performing a name change or changing any information on your card. Simply log into your My Social Security account at SSA.gov and request a replacement. Note that a handful of states do not allow online replacement requests.

If you need to change your name or you live in a state that does not allow online replacement requests, you should complete Form SS-5 to request a Social Security card. This is the same form used for initial card requests as well. To complete your request for a replacement, you will need to provide proof of your identity, like a driver’s license. For a new card request, you will need proof of identity and citizenship status. You will also need to provide your birth certificate to prove your age. If you have any questions about the required documents, you can call the Social Security Administration toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.


The Bottom Line

Are you wondering, “How do I apply for Social Security benefits?” Simply gather the required documents and complete the application! When you get ready to apply for Social Security benefits, you should go ahead and gather the required documents before starting your application. This should help your application get processed more quickly. However, if you cannot locate all the documents, go ahead and apply for benefits. You can always provide the documents later in the process. Applying for health insurance coverage through Medicare doesn’t usually require as many documents, although some of the same ones will be required for that process.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the first step in applying for Social Security?

The first step in applying for Social Security is deciding when to start your benefits. You can start receiving your benefits as early as age 62, but doing so will cause a significant reduction in your benefits. To get 100% of your primary insurance amount, you will need to wait until full retirement age to start your benefits. If you can wait even later, you can accrue delayed retirement benefits and increase your monthly payments. Once you have decided when to start your benefits, you should gather the required documents and complete your application. If the Social Security Administration requires additional documentation, they will reach out and let you know.

Is it better to apply for Social Security in person or online?

Many people wonder how to sign up for Social Security. The quickest and easiest way to apply for Social Security is online through SSA.gov. However, that is not the only way to apply. You can also apply for benefits over the phone or in person at your local Social Security office. Some people choose to start their application online and then visit their local office to provide their documents. Since you are required to submit original documents, many people choose not to send those through the mail. Although the Social Security Administration will return your documents, there is always a chance that they could be lost in the mail.

How long does it take to get your first Social Security check after applying?

You should usually receive your first Social Security retirement check within three months of your application. If there are problems with your application, then your first check could be delayed. Failure to provide the proper documentation could delay the start of your benefits. However, you might still get a Social Security check and be required to provide some documents after the fact.

What is the difference between a “brief” and a “detailed” Social Security application?

There is only one Social Security application, and all applicants are required to provide the same information. However, depending on your situation, you might be required to provide more documentation. If the Social Security Administration needs to verify certain information, they might require you to provide additional documentation. The application itself is the same for everyone, and you must complete an application before you can start receiving your benefits.