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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, in which case it helps to have a My Social Security account.

Here are some basic guidelines on applying for various benefits.

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.

When you can file: The minimum age to apply for both retirement and spouse benefits is 62, but monthly payments are higher if you wait longer.

Where to file: Online, by phone or in person.

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Survivor benefits

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.

When you can file: In most cases you must be at least 60 to receive survivor benefits (but as with retirement and spousal benefits, they increase if you wait). There are exceptions for widows and widowers who are disabled (the minimum age is 50) or caring for children who are under 16 or disabled (no age restriction). Eligibility can be affected if you have remarried.

Where to file: By phone or in person.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

For 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.

When you can file: There is no minimum age for SSDI but you must have done at least some work in which you acquired Social Security credits.

Where to file: Online, by phone or in person.

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Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI — a program administered but not funded by Social Security that pays benefits to low-income people who are disabled, blind or 65 and older — 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).

When you can file: There is no minimum age for SSI if you are applying on the basis of blindness or a qualifying disability. Absent that, you must be ast least 65.

Where to file: By phone, in person or online in limited circumstances.

Keep in mind

  • If you plan to apply for Social Security benefits in person, it’s best to make an appointment. You can do that by calling Social Security's national toll-free number, 800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET, or by contacting your local office directly.
  • To apply for Social Security of any kind while living abroad, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

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