Considered a national pension of sorts for workers heading into the 60s, there are plenty of angles to consider when deciding exactly when to apply for Social Security benefits. The earliest age you can do so is 61 years and 9 months, but some people hold off until later due to the fact that this results in a higher monthly check.
Social Security Benefits
While interacting with any government agency of this size can be a headache, unless you have an unusual personal situation, the application process should not be difficult or time-consuming. Let’s take a look at exactly how to get from square one to a monthly check.
As mentioned, any worker who has paid into the Social Security system can apply for benefits to begin receiving monthly checks at the age of 62. The earliest you should turn in an official application is no earlier than four months prior to that age. An interesting factoid provided by Money is that the average monthly benefit is only $1,342, obviously not a livable income for many folks. If you’re working a job you like and are able to achieve a standard of living you’re comfortable with, you might choose to delay applying.
For every year you wait until the age of 70 you gain about 8 percent in your monthly benefit check. Another number to keep in mind is 65. That’s the age at which you are able to apply for benefits related to the national health insurance program Medicare. Even if you’re not ready to claim to begin receiving a monthly Social Security check, you should turn in Medicare paperwork three months before you turn 65. There will be a premium involved which hovers right around $100 per month, making it the best insurance bargain around. Keep in mind that if you wait beyond 65 to start Medicare, the premiums are liable to be substantially higher.
How to Apply for Social Security Benefits
Once you meet the age qualification and decide to apply for your benefits, there are several ways to go about it.
Online: For those comfortable using a computer, which we assume you are since you’re reading this, visit the Social Security website to apply for your or your spouse’s retirement benefits, or Medicare. The agency has made a big push in recent years to move people out of a paper-based ecosystem and onto the internet. Access the online application.
Phone: The good old-fashioned telephone is still an entirely appropriate way to apply for your benefits. A Social Security employee will be glad to take your information over the phone and submit the application for you. Keep in mind that there may be a wait of up to 30 minutes before you get a live body on the other end of the line. With a nation of more than 300 million citizens, the agency stays busy trying to keep up. Busiest times are early in the month and then the first few days of each week. Try Wednesday or Thursday afternoons. The incoming call volume declines greatly then.
Visit Your Local Office: While it’s perfectly acceptable to just drop by your local office, the wait is likely to be much shorter if you call ahead for an appointment first. With an appointment time, your representative should have already looked through your file before you arrive and will be able to get right to work on filling and processing the application. If you happen to live in an area overseas that is outside the reach of a traditional Social Security office, you can stop by the nearest U.S. Embassy office for further instructions.
Since you will be interacting with the government, you should expect to be required to show certain documents as you go through the benefits application process. It will make your life so much easier if you plan ahead and have at least the following with you:
- Marriage date, date and place of birth, and Social Security number for yourself and spouse
- Names and Social Security numbers of minor children and any disabled before age 22
- Proof of citizenship like a birth certificate
- Direct deposit information (account and routing number) for your checking account
- The month you want benefits to begin
- Whether or not you want to enroll in Medicare Part B
- Employer information and estimated earnings
- Military discharge papers (if applicable)
- Most recent W-2 form or self-employed tax return information
The Bottom Line
With the preceding information in head and hand, you should have no fears about the process of applying for your Social Security benefits when the time arrives. The process to follow and decisions to make are actually simple. If you run into any questions along the way, either call or drop by your local office. It’s their job to help with this stuff. Make ‘em earn their pay. Before long, you’ll be kicked back on a private beach in Florida collecting all that free money. Just kidding. It’s your money and you worked long and hard for it. Enjoy.