How To Apply For Social Security Retirement Benefits [Easy Step-By-Step]

Do you plan to use Social Security Benefits soon? 

Are you a young person just starting to work? 

Either way, understanding Social Security benefits, how they are calculated, and how you can get the most out of them will help you to plan for your future. 

This article will cover who qualifies for Social Security Benefits, the application process, and how your benefits are calculated. 

It will also touch on factors to keep in mind throughout your career and when deciding the age you should apply for Social Security Benefits. 

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Who Can Receive Retirement Benefits

To receive retirement benefits you must fall into one of the following groups:

  • Those who have retired already
  • Disabled individuals 
  • Family, spouse, and other survivors of a worker who has died
  • Dependents of the beneficiary

How Can I Qualify For Benefits

To qualify for retirement benefits you must:

  • Be a US citizen or have legal authorization to work in the US
  • Be between 62 to 70 years old
  • Have worked for at least 10 years 
  • Have paid social security tax while working

How Do I Calculate My Full Retirement Age

You can calculate your full retirement age using your birth year and the chart below. 

Can I Collect Retirement Benefits Before My Full Retirement Age

Yes, you can choose to collect your retirement benefits earlier, however, your benefits will be lower than if you waited until you reach full retirement age or older.

If I delay My Retirement Date Can I Still Get Medicare

Yes, if you choose to delay your retirement date you can still apply and qualify for Medicare at age 65. 

If you delay applying for Medicare your coverage may cost more and you may need to wait longer to be approved. 

To learn more about applying for medicare click here. 

How Much Will I Be Paid

The amount you will receive is calculated based on your 

  • lifetime earnings
  • changes in average wages throughout your career
  • the 35 years where you earned the most
  • the Social Securities basic benefits rate
  • the age you plan to retire at

Social Security records all the above information, applies their own formula and calculates your benefits. 

The lowest Social Security payment is estimated to be around $628.00. Social Security payments go up from there.

It is important to keep in mind that if you retire earlier, you will receive a smaller Social Security benefit. If you retire later you will receive a higher Social Security benefit. 

Use the Social Security Benefits calculator here. This tool provides many different Benefits calculators. Browse the different kinds of calculators and choose the one relevant to you. 

To learn more about the base benefits click here.

Are My Earning Included In The Specific Types Of Earnings List 

There are certain types of earning that have different or additional rules. They are:

  • Farm Work
  • Federal Government Employment 
  • Household Employment 
  • Military Service 
  • Nonprofit Or Religious Organizations 
  • Railroad Earnings
  • Self-Employment 
  • Start And Local Government Employment Wages
  • Work Outside the United States
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If your work falls under any of the above categories, visit the Social Security website here to learn more about the additional rules and factors of these Specific Earnings. 

What If I Receive a Pension Already

If you are getting a WRP (Windfall Elimination Provision) or GPO (Government Pension Offset) your Social Security Benefits may be affected. 

Your Social Security Benefits may be lower if you are receiving either of those pensions. 

Learn more about each of these pensions and how they may affect your Social Security Benefits here. 

What If I Am Still Working

You can continue to work while claiming Social Security Benefits. Doing so may increase your benefits because your 35 highest-earning years are included in the calculation of your benefits. 

So if you continue working, and you earn a higher wage in the year before, your benefits will be recalculated and most likely increased. 

If you are under full retirement age (66-67 years old) and claim your Social Security Benefits, earning a higher yearly wage may reduce your benefits. 

Can I Apply For My Spouse’s Social Security Benefits 

Yes, you can apply for a spouse’s benefits. You must be at least 62 years old or taking care of a disabled child or a child under 16 years old. 

If you apply for these benefits before you reach your full retirement age, your benefits would be lower than if you waited to receive them at your full retirement age. 

Read more about the details of applying for a spouse’s benefits here.

What If I Am Divorced

You may still receive a spouse’s benefits if you divorced as long as:

  • You were legally married for at least 10 years
  • Your ex-spouse has remained unmarried
  • Your ex-spouse is older than 62
  • Your ex-spouse’s benefit based on their employment would be lower than the benefit you would receive based on your employment. 
  • You qualify to receive disability benefits or Social Security benefits 

Read more about getting ex-spousal Social Security benefits here.

How Much Will My Retirement Benefits Increase If I Wait To Retire

Your retirement benefits will increase every 1 month and 12 months following your full retirement age. The increase will stop once you reach the age of 70. 

See the chart below to calculate your benefits increase. 

When Should I Start My Application 

The application usually takes around 6 weeks to process and approve. It is recommended that you apply a few months before you would like to receive your retirement payments. 

What Documents Do I Need To Submit

To apply for Social Security Benefit you need the following documents:

  • Your Social Security card or a record of your SSN
  • Your original birth certificate, a certified copy from the issuing agency, or another kind of proof of your age. Photocopies or notarized copies are NOT accepted. 
  • If you’re not U.S.-born you will need to have proof of lawful alien status or U.S. citizenship. Expired documents, notarized copies, or photocopies are not accepted. 
  • If you served in the military before 1968, you need to provide a copy of your U. S. military service paper(s). You can submit a photocopy of this document. 
  • Self-employment tax return for the previous year and/or a copy of your W-2 form (s). You can submit a photocopy of this document as well. 

You can view the Social Security Checklist For Retirement, Medicare, and Spouses Application here. 

If you have applied for Medicare or a Social Security claim, you should have already provided proof of age and/or citizenship. In this case, you may not need to submit proof of age or U.S. citizenship again. 

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It is recommended to apply for Social Security benefits as soon as you can. If you do not have all the above documents ready, you could still start the application process. Missing documents can be provided later. 

If you delay applying for your benefits, you may lose out on receiving them.

Can I Apply Online, By Phone, Or In Person

You can apply online here, by phone at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) which is a nationwide toll-free service, or by visiting a Social Security office near you. 

You can find a location close to you by searching your zip code in this locator. 

Make sure to call ahead of time and book an appointment. You may not receive service if you show up to the Social Security office without an appointment. 

How Do I Apply Online

You will need to prepare all the relevant documents, confirm you qualify, and make sure you meet the requirements to apply online. 

Once you have done that, sign in to your “my Social Security” account, select apply for Retirement/Medicare. This could take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. 

If you would like to take a break you can save your application as you go and come back later. 

When you complete your application, make sure to submit it. A representative should contact you to update you or ask any further questions. 

However, please be careful when taking ANY phone call about your Social Security benefits!!! Unfortunately, there are quite a few scams related to Social Security numbers. A Social Security officer will NEVER threaten you or say you will go to jail if you do not give them your personal information. 

If you receive a phone call where someone says “there is a charge against you, you will go to jail if you do not pay money or give us your information” that is a scam! Hang up!  

If you would like to confirm your application status it is safest to call the Social Security office yourself. If you initiate the call it is safer than receiving a call from someone you do not know. 

How Do I Apply In Person

To apply in person, you first need to call your local Social Security office and set up an appointment. Find your closest Social Security office by searching your zip code here. 

Please keep in mind, due to Covid-19, face-to-face service may be suspended. Confirm Social Security offices are accepting in-person appointments. 

Once you have an appointment, prepare all the required documents. I would suggest going above and beyond to avoid having to make multiple trips. 

During the appointment, you and the Social Security officer will go through the application process, discuss the questions, and look at the documents you provide. 

If you have any questions and concerns, make sure to write them down prior to the appointment and ask the officer while you speak with them. 

What Questions Will Social Security Ask Me When I Am Applying For My Benefits

You will be asked about your date of birth, your Social Security Number, any former spouse, or your current spouse. You will be asked to confirm the names of any unmarried children or any children under 19 or disabled. 

You will be asked about your bank account information, your citizenship, any previous benefits you have applied for or received. 

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Questions about your previous or current employment, earnings the year before, and any military service will be asked. 

There are many other questions you may be asked, it is best to be prepared to answer anything related to your past financial, medical, military, tax, and family history. 

How Long Does It Take For My Application To Be Processed 

In most cases, it takes anywhere from 3 to 5 months for your application to be processed and for a decision to be made.

The process depends on how long it takes Social Security to receive your records, go over your application, confirm your documentation, and calculate your benefits. 

If you provided insufficient or incorrect documents, your application may be rejected. Make sure to double-check all the documents you provide. Confirm they are up to date, correct, and original copies. 

How Will I Know When My Application Is Approved

You can check the status of your application in your my Social Security account. Or you could call your local Social Security office to check your application status. 

Why Would My Application Be Rejected Or My Benefits Denied

Some of the most common reasons an application is rejected or benefits are denied are:

  1. Insufficient documentation provided 
  2. The SSA could not locate or contact you 
  3. You refuse to cooperate and provide the necessary information
  4. You commit fraud

To reject or deny your application Social Security must have reasonable legal grounds. If your application is rejected you can contact the Social Security office to learn why it was rejected and the steps you can take to reapply. 

How Long Does It Take For Me To Receive My First Check

Once your application is approved and your benefits have been calculated you should receive a check within 30-45 days of your retirement date. If you do not receive the check and you are sure your application was approved, call your local Social Security office to learn why you haven’t received our check. 

Are Social Security Checks Retroactive 

You may be able to collect Social Security Benefits up to 6 months prior. However, if you choose to collect retroactive Social Security benefits you will lose any credits you earned during those months from delaying your retirement. 

For example, say you wait until 70 years old to retire. However, when applying for your Social Security Retirement benefits, you decide to collect retroactive benefits, you will lose the benefits increase you previously received during those months. 

So if you had received a 1.1% increase for each month you delay retiring, you will lose that payment increase for the months you receive a retroactive payment. 

How Can I Increase My Retirement Benefits 

There are multiple ways you can increase your retirement benefits. This article mentioned a few ways briefly. Below is a list of other ways you could increase your benefits payment.  

Social Security benefits can be increased by:

  1. Delaying your retirement 
  2. Continuing to work while receiving Social Security benefits.
  3. Collect Spousal benefits 
  4. Apply for a survivors benefit 
  5. Avoid Social Security tax by staying under the taxable combined income rate

Final Thoughts

Applying for any kind of government benefits can be a long and challenging process. However, doing your research, preparing all the necessary documents, and approaching the process with a calm demeanor can help you avoid missing things and getting frustrated. 

I hope you found this article informative! Drop a comment or question below.