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How to Apply for Social Security

Here's how to make sure you're maximizing your benefits

My Social Security personal accounts on the Social Security website

If you know what to expect, applying for Social Security can be a smooth experience. — Istock

Applying for Social Security benefits is a big step, but it can be a smooth one if you know what to expect and have the right information at your fingertips.

Depending on the benefit you want, you may have the option of applying in person, by phone or online.

  • Applying in person. This can be easy but it might take time. Tip: Call 800-772-1213 to make an appointment at the Social Security Administration (SSA) office nearest you (and call when phone lines are least busy — typically later in the day, later in the week and later in the month). You can find the nearest office by going online to ssa.gov. Click on Search, type in "find an office," and when the office locator pops up, enter your zip code.

  • Applying by phone. You can call the SSA toll-free at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778), Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. ET to 7 p.m. ET. If you call outside those hours, you can still get some information about benefits, eligibility and online services.

  • Applying online. You can apply online for some, but not all, Social Security benefits. In some cases, you may begin your application process online but will complete it in person or over the phone. Go to ssa.gov/applyonline to get started. The online application system is available Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. ET to 1 a.m. ET; Saturday, 5 a.m ET. to 11 p.m. ET; and Sunday, 8 a.m. ET to 11:30 p.m ET. On federal holidays, the system is available on the usual hours for that day of the week.

See also: How to Start the Social Security Benefits Flowing

Here are some basic guidelines on applying for widely sought benefits.

  • Retirement benefits. You'll need to gather information about your recent earnings, marital history, military background, whether you qualify for a federal pension, and possible eligibility of any family members for Social Security benefits based on your own work record.

Required materials include your Social Security number; birth certificate (original or certified copy) or a religious record of your birth, such as a baptismal certificate before you were age 5; Form W-2 earnings statements from each of your employers or your tax return from the prior year if self-employed; military discharge papers; and proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status.

Where to file. File in person, by phone or online.

  • Survivor benefits. Get hold of the Social Security number of the deceased, your own Social Security number and those of any dependent children, your birth certificate or acceptable religious record, Form W-2 earnings statement or tax return if self-employed, death certificate of the deceased, and your marriage certificate or divorce papers.

Where to file. File in person or by phone (as early as the month the covered worker or retiree dies).

See Also: Consumers Hurt by What They Don’t Know About Social Security


Video: Social Security Q & A with AARP Members - Alfred Padilla, a National Public Affairs Specialist for the Social Security Administration answers key questions from AARP members.


  • Disability benefits. You may file for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled (and be aware that it can take a while to make your case). Dependent family members may file for auxiliary benefits based on the record of a disabled worker.

You generally will need the following information and documents: your Social Security number and the Social Security numbers of your spouse and minor children, birth certificate or an acceptable religious record, contact information for your medical providers, dates of your health care appointments related to your condition, your prescription information, medical records related to this condition, a summary of your work history, your most recent Form W-2 earnings statements or tax return if self-employed, military discharge papers, and information on other disability claims filed with insurance or workers' compensation.

Where to file. File in person, by phone or online.

  • Supplemental Security Income. File for these benefits as soon as you need them. Requirements may vary depending on the specific SSI benefit. You may be asked for your Social Security number, your birth certificate or religious record of your birth or other proof of age, documentation on where you live (such as a lease or utility bill with your name on it), financial records including payroll slips and bank statements, details of assets you own (such as property and vehicles), and proof of citizenship or legal residency, possibly including documents from the Department of Homeland Security.

Where to file. File in person or by phone.

For more details on applying for Social Security benefits, go to ssa.gov/forms/apply-for-benefits.html.

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