Applying for Social Security Benefits

Social Security is a federal insurance program that provides benefits to retired people and those who are disabled, survivors of workers who have died, and other intended beneficiaries. When you work, you pay Social Security taxes. The money you pay in taxes is then used to pay people who are receiving benefits. As you work, you accrue credits that add up and determine whether you're eligible for benefits.

 As more and more baby boomers reach retirement age, questions concerning the time and manner in which to collect benefits may arise. This section provides articles and resources detailing the application process for claiming benefits, the time limits involved, and more.

Application Process

Although filing for Social Security benefits can be done by phone or online, you'll likely make at least one trip to your local Social Security office. By entering your zip code on the Social Security Administration's website, you can find the nearest office. You can also check your telephone directory for an office near you.

Documents Required In Application

Whether you apply online or in person, you'll need access to a number of documents, including your original birth certificate or other proof of birth, original citizenship or naturalization papers, military service papers, and W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns. Additionally, you'll need to provide your date and place of birth, Social Security number, bank routing number, the name and address of your employer, information about your current and former spouses, and a copy of your Social Security Statement. If you're filing for disability benefits, you'll need to complete the Adult Disability Report, sit for an interview, and provide extensive medical information and documents.

When to File For Retirement Benefits

Your full retirement age, under current rules, is between 65 and 67. You can choose to begin receiving benefits at age 62 or after you've reached your full retirement age. If you begin to receive benefits at your full retirement age, you'll receive your full benefit amount. On the other hand, if you choose to begin collecting your benefits before your full retirement age, you'll receive a lesser amount proportional to the number of months until your full retirement age. If you retire at age 62, for example, you'll receive up to 25 percent less than if you'd waited until your full retirement age. If you retire after your full retirement age, you'll receive a percentage increase for each year you delay claiming your benefits.

How Much You'll Receive in Benefits

Along with the age you choose to retire, the amount of benefits you'll receive is based on how long you've been in the workforce and how much you've earned. In general, the Social Security office will take your highest earning 35 years and average them, adjusted for inflation. The resulting number is used to calculate your average indexed monthly earnings. Your average indexed monthly earnings are adjusted to determine your benefit amount. Of course, claiming benefits early reduces this number.

Working and Collecting Benefits

You may work and still collect Social Security benefits. If you begin collecting benefits at your full retirement age, there's no limit to how much you can earn. However, if you begin collecting benefits before you've reached your full retirement age, your benefit amount will be reduced if you earn over the exempt amount.

Learn More About Applying For Social Security Benefits

This section provides information on how to apply for Social Security benefits, including the amount of benefits to expect, when to expect them, and whether the system may cut back on certain benefits. Select from the list of titles below to learn more.


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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • The initial Social Security process doesn’t require an attorney
  • An attorney primarily handles claims that are denied
  • It can be helpful to have an attorney during Social Security benefit disputes or appeals

A Social Security lawyer can help protect your rights to your benefits.

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Now is a great time to consider creating or revising your estate plan. Protect your assets through a will, decide who can make financial decisions for you through a power of attorney, and ensure you make important health care decisions through a health care directive. You can create these critical documents online using DIY estate planning forms.

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