Applying for Social Security Benefits

Mary Gormandy White
Apply for Social Security

The process of applying for Social Security benefits is not difficult. The application form is online, and filling it out is a simple, step-by-step process. It generally takes about three months for applications to be processed, so you should apply at least three months before you would like to begin receiving payments.

Three Ways to Apply

There are three different ways to apply for Social Security benefits: online, in-person and by telephone.

1. Online Application

Visit the Apply Online page on the Social Security Administration's (SSA) website to get started. Once you arrive on the page, you will need click the appropriate link to specify whether you are applying for your retirement benefits, a spouse's benefits, or disability benefits.

You can expect it to take about 30 minutes to complete the online application form. You can save as you go, so it's possible to start and stop without losing your progress.

2. In-Person

You may also complete the application process in-person, at the SSA office in your area. Visit the Local Office Search page to find the most convenient location. Once you find out where you should go, place a call to that office, and make an appointment. Be sure to specify that you are coming in to apply for benefits when you call.

3. Telephone

You can also complete your application for Social Security benefits by telephone. Simply call 1-800-772-1213 to get started. There is also a TTY line for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. The number is TTY 1-800-325-0778.

Necessary Information

Certain documentation may be required to process your application. Documents that the Social SSA may request include:

  • Birth certificate (original or certified copy)
  • Social Security card
  • Last year's W2 tax form (or self-employment tax documents)
  • Proof of citizenship or documentation of alien status if born outside of the United States
  • Bank account number and routing number for direct deposit
  • Military discharge papers, if you were in the military prior to 1968

Factors to Consider

Before you apply for social security benefits, consider these factors.

Time Spent Working

You will need to have worked for at least 10 years to be eligible for benefits. If you began working but then quit but decided to go back, the actual time that you worked factors into the 10 years.

Benefit Amount

The amount of benefit that you will be eligible to receive is based on how long you worked, how much you earned, and how old you are when you elect to start receiving payments.

  • Visit the Calculators page on the SSA's website to find out how much you are eligible to receive.
  • Information provided on the Calculators page indicates that, in general, payments typically replace 40 percent of the income of a person earning average wages prior to retirement.
  • The benefit amount is typically adjusted somewhat each year to account for inflation.
  • US News and World Report magazine reports that, for 2013, the average monthly Social Security payment for an individual is $1,261 per month and $2,048 for couples.

Earliest Time to Receive Benefits

You can start benefits at age 62, but the amount you receive will be significantly lower than if you wait until you reach the full retirement age. See the Age Reduction Chart to find out how you will be affected if you opt to begin receiving benefits early.

Full Retirement Age for Benefits

The lowest current full retirement age is 65, but it varies based on year of birth. It is 65 if you were born in 1942 or earlier, but higher if you were born later. See the Age to Receive Full Social Security Benefits page to find out when you can receive full benefits.

Delaying Benefits

If you delay receiving benefits until after you reach full retirement age, you can earn additional benefits. The increase will be based on the length of time you opt not to receive benefits from the time you reach full retirement age until your 70th birthday. See the Delayed Retirement Credits page to learn how much you can benefit from delaying your application.

Checking on Application Status

Once you have completed your application, you can use the SSA's website to check on its status. Simply visit the Application Status Page and enter your Social Security number and the confirmation number that you received when you finished filling out the necessary forms.

Applying for Social Security Benefits