How to Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits

Many seniors seek help with how to sign up for Social Security when they are approaching retirement age. In fact, for some, filling out the Social Security online application can seem overwhelming and complicated.

For many retirees, filing an application for Social Security retirement benefits online is not an option because they do not have access to a computer. For these individuals, there are alternative ways to apply for benefits including by phone or in person. Applicants who live outside of the country should contact the closest U.S. Social Security Office, U.S. Embassy or consulate where someone can offer assistance determining eligibility.

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To learn how to submit a Social Security retirement application to the Social Security Administration (SSA, you can continue reading the sections below. Follow the steps listed here to easily complete your application for benefit and learn what you will need to apply and what to expect after you apply.

Before You Apply for Social Security Retirement

Before you begin your application for Social Security retirement make sure you meet the following prerequisites:

  • You are either already 62 years of age or at least 61 years and nine months of age
  • You are within four months of when you wish to start receiving benefits

Documents Needed To Apply For Social Security Retirement Benefits

The required documents for Social Security retirement benefits are the same whether you apply online, by mail or in person. Before you begin the application process though, no matter which method you choose to complete your application, gather the following information and documents to make the process easier:

  • A certified copy or original birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship, or, if you were not born in the U.S., your lawful alien status
  • S. military service papers if in the military service prior to 1968 (for example, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty)
  • W-2 form or tax return if self-employed

Tips for Submitting Required Documents for Social Security Retirement Application

The SSA accepts photocopies of most documents needed to apply for Social Security retirement benefits, such as W-2 forms, tax returns and medical documents. However, documents like birth certificates must be original or certified. If filing by mail, these documents will be returned to you. If you do not possess all required documents, file the application anyway. You can submit additional documents later. Alternatively, the SSA may be able to help you obtain missing documentation or call and verify the vital records office in the state where your information is held. Delaying application submission could mean a loss of some benefits otherwise due to you.

The SSA also advises applicants who apply for Social Security retirement not to mail foreign birth records or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) documents. This is because some of these papers require these individuals to keep the documents with them at all times. Furthermore, many of these types of papers are hard to replace, and some may even be irreplaceable. Instead, benefit applicants should bring sensitive documents like these to any SSA office and have them looked over, verified and returned immediately.

One final tip on submitting documents in the mail is to include your Social Security Number on a separate piece of paper, so as not to write on any original or certified documents.

How to Sign Up for Social Security Benefits

Retirement benefits applicants can fill out the Social Security retirement application form either online, in person at an SSA local branch or by mail. Filing a Social Security online application is generally the easiest method for most standard benefit applications. Note that it is only available in English and can be used to apply for both retirement benefits and Medicare simultaneously. The online Social Security benefits application form for retirement can also be used help apply for Medicare alone. Below is information on how to apply for retirement benefits through the SSA.

Submit an Online Social Security Benefits Application

Retirees can now use the Social Security online application to register for retirement benefits through the SSA. This is by far the quickest, easiest and most convenient method for applying for benefits. It takes as few as 15 minutes to complete and does not typically require any signatures or documentation.

The Social Security online application allows applicants to save their progress and return to complete it later, if necessary. To learn how to sign up for Social Security online, follow the steps below.

  1. Once you have accessed the online portal via the SSA website, click the “Apply for Retirement Benefits” button.
    • You will either need to log in to your SSA account or create a new one.
    • After logging in, you will be asked questions pertaining to yourself, your work and your family.
  2. Fill out the application in its entirety or save it and return at another time to complete it.
    • If you get stuck on a question, you can skip it and go back to it later.
    • If you stay on a page of the application for 25 minutes, you will receive a warning to extend your time on that page. After three warnings, your time will expire, and your work on that page will not be saved.
    • When you have completed the online Social Security retirement application, you will be asked to verify the information you submitted.
  3. Electronically “sign” the application by clicking the “Submit Now” button that will appear on your computer screen after you complete the application form.

Once you complete the online Social Security retirement application form, you are essentially done. Your application will be processed by SSA. If additional information or documents are required, they will contact you. When your application has been processed fully, you will receive a letter from the SSA in the mail with details that help you understand the decision regarding your retirement benefits.

Additional Ways to Sign Up for Social Security

If you do not have access to the online Social Security application for retirement benefits may call the SSA between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday at the number listed below. Follow the voice prompts to speak to a live representative. Alternatively, an in-person application can be submitted by visiting your local Social Security Office. Be sure to call the branch first and make an appointment to apply.

Social Security Administration Automated Telephone Services


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