Skip to Content

How to Apply for Social Security

How to Apply for Social Security

Every year, thousands of eligible Americans want to learn how to apply for Social Security. While the amount and type of benefits you receive can vary, the application process is generally the same for everyone. This ensures that everyone who qualifies can get the Social Security benefits they need once they reach retirement. We’re going to explain exactly how to apply for Social Security benefits and provide you with the resources to get your application started!


When can I apply for Social Security benefits?

The time when you can (and should) apply for Social Security will depend on when you want to start receiving your benefits. If you’re applying for retirement benefits, you can start getting Social Security benefits as early as age 62 and as late as age 70. The Social Security Administration recommends future beneficiaries apply 4 months before they want to start receiving benefits. So, if you want your benefits to arrive when you turn 65, you should apply when you’re 64 and 9 months. 

Generally, the longer you wait to apply, the more you can receive every month. If you wait until you’ve reached your full retirement age to apply, then you can get your full benefits. Applying before you’ve reached your full retirement age can result in reduced benefits. For example, the current full retirement age for people born after 1960 is 67 years old. Therefore, if you were born after 1960 and you want to receive 100% of your potential benefits, you will need to apply for your benefits 4 months before you turn 67. 

As of 2021, you can expect to receive between 5%-7% less for every year you get benefits prior to reaching your full retirement age. Here is a table to illustrate the percentage of your maximum benefits that you can expect to receive based on when you apply:

67 or older100%

*These figures assume that your full retirement age is 67.


However, it’s important to consider that the full retirement age could change in the future, along with the percentage of the maximum benefits you will receive based on the time of your application. 

Who qualifies for Social Security benefits?

The vast majority of Social Security beneficiaries receive benefits as retirement income. However, you can also get Social Security benefits prior to the age of 62 if you have a qualifying disability. Otherwise, you will need to be at least 62 years old and have a minimum of 10 years of work history. If you do not meet the work history requirement, you can also qualify through the work history of a spouse. You can learn more about Social Security benefit requirements on the SSA website

How to apply for Social Security

Now that you understand the basics of Social Security, you can prepare for the application process. Whether you choose to apply online, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security office, the process is generally the same. This makes it easier to figure out how to apply for Social Security in a way that is most comfortable for you. Below, we will cover the step-by-step process that you will need to follow to secure your Social Security benefits. 

Collect your information & documents

First, you need to make sure that you have all of the right information and documents on hand. Though the Social Security Administration may request additional documents based on your specific circumstances, you will need to provide, at a minimum, the following:

  • Your Social Security card 
  • An original birth certificate, a certified copy of your birth certificate, or another official document that shows proof of age
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status
  • A copy of U.S. military service (if applicable)
  • A copy of your most recent W-2 or self-employment tax return

For most of these documents, the Social Security Administration does not accept photocopies. You will need to either have the original documents or certified copies of the original documents to proceed.

Submit your application

Once you have all the necessary information and documents compiled, you will need to start the application process. You can do so online at this link or you can call to submit your application over the phone at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Alternatively, you can make an appointment to submit your application in person at your local Social Security office. 

Regardless of how you submit your application, you will need to provide the information and documentation listed above. Additionally, you will need to provide information related to your work history and marital status, as well as your contact information (address, phone number, email, etc) and your desired date to begin receiving benefits.


Wait for your approval letter

Unfortunately, once you submit your application, there’s not much you can do to speed up the process. The Social Security Administration will need to review your application and make a decision. If they require more information, they will request it. In the event that you provide false information or you otherwise do not qualify for Social Security benefits, you will be notified of your denied request by mail. Generally, it takes between 3 and 5 months to get an answer. Once you get a decision letter confirming your benefits in the mail, you can expect to start receiving your benefits on the date agreed upon in your application.

The Bottom Line

Social Security benefits help make sure that millions of disabled and/or retired Americans have income when they are no longer working. While Social Security may not be enough to provide all retirees with the income they need, it can be an extremely beneficial addition to your retirement savings. Consequently, it’s vitally important to understand the Social Security application process.

Fortunately, applying for Social Security is not as complicated as it may seem at first glance. As you can see in this article, the Social Security Administration has simplified the application and qualification process to make sure that Americans can get their benefits as quickly as possible. If you’d like to learn more about how to apply for Social Security, you can consult a lawyer via our free legal aid guide or get additional information on JustAnswer!

Save Money & Get Free Stuff!