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How to apply for Social Security

You can file for any type of Social Security benefit by phone at 800-772-1213 or in person at your local Social Security office. For retirement, spousal and disability benefits, you can also apply online

For retirement and spousal benefits, you’ll need to provide an array of personal and work information, including:

  • Your date and place of birth.
  • Marital history and number of children.
  • Start and stop dates for jobs held in the past two years (and net income from self-employment in the past two years).
  • Military service, if applicable.
  • The routing number of the bank where you want Social Security to deposit your payment, and the number and type of your account.

Social Security provides a complete checklist of what you’ll need for your application.

To apply for survivor benefits, make sure you have:

  • The Social Security number and death certificate of the late wage earner on whose record you are applying.
  • Your Social Security number and those of any dependent children.
  • Your birth certificate or an acceptable religious record of your birth (such as a baptismal certificate).
  • Your marriage certificate (and divorce papers if filing as a former spouse).
  • Tax records documenting your earnings.

For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the document requirements are considerably broader and the application is lengthier. Along with the usual personal data (such as birth certificate and employment and earnings records), you’ll need to provide extensive documentation of your medical history and treatment and file an Adult Disability Report. The SSDI process also includes an interview, in person or by phone. You’ll find detailed information in Social Security’s Adult Disability Starter Kit.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — a program administered but not funded by Social Security that pays benefits to low-income people who are over 65 or disabled — has document requirements related to financial need as well as personal information. These may include:

  • Proof of citizenship or legal residency.
  • Proof of 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).

Keep in mind

  • If you plan to apply for Social Security benefits in person at your local office, it’s best to make an appointment. You can do that by phone at 800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET.
  • If you are applying for Social Security of any kind while living abroad, you must contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Published October 10, 2018

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