There are multiple ways to apply for Social Security retirement benefits. One is to fill out the four page Social Security Benefit Application form online. Another is to call the Social Security Administration’s toll free number 800-772-1213. A third is to make an appointment and go to your local Social Security office in person. If you’re not sure where the closest office is to you, use the Social Security Office Locator.
If you are out of the country and wish to apply, you can contact the nearest Social Security international office, United States Embassy, or United States Consulate.
Before you can start receiving benefits, as a part of the application process you may be asked to supply certain documents, either by mail or in person at a Social Security office. These documents may include your Social Security card, your birth certificate, proof of United States citizenship or lawful alien status if you were born in a different country, your military discharge papers if you served in the military prior to 1968, and/or your most recent year’s tax return and W-2 forms showing your income. These need to be originals, or copies certified by the issuing office. (They will be returned to you.)
You will also need to supply your banking information if you wish to receive your benefits as a direct deposit rather than as a check mailed to you.
If you cannot come up with one or more necessary documents, you should still apply for benefits. The people at the Social Security office will either obtain the information themselves from your state’s Vital Records department, or will advise you on how you can obtain the information to provide to them.
You may start receiving Social Security retirement benefits any time between when you turn 62 and when you turn 70. If all of your documents are in order, you may be able to start your benefits the same month you apply, or you may apply up to four months in advance.
If you can, it’s better to apply in advance of when you intend your benefits to start, to be on the safe side.
Of course, the fact that the rules allow you to request your Social Security retirement benefits to start as soon as you turn 62 doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. The sooner you start your benefits, the less you will receive per month, so it may be advantageous to wait.
But that is a decision dependent on numerous factors involving your individual circumstances, and is beyond the scope of this piece.
“How to Apply for Benefits.” Social Security Online.
“What Documents Will You Need When You Apply?” Social Security Online.