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Tips on Filing for Social Security Benefits

Filing for Social Security retirement benefits can be an exciting milestone for Americans. It can also be fraught with concerns about how it works and filing correctly to ensure accurate and timely benefits. The confusion may be compounded if a retiree deals with a medical impairment or any other issue requiring extra support and assistance in filing for monthly benefits.

With advanced retirement planning, it's possible to alleviate some concerns. Below, you will learn about federal government retirement eligibility and what types of benefits are available. You will also get more information about which documents you'll need to file for benefits. You'll also learn about when to file for retirement and Medicare benefits.

Social Security Retirement Eligibility

Your eligibility for Social Security retirement depends on your years of earnings when you paid Social Security taxes. These taxes earn you "credits" toward retirement. The SSA will consider your taxed earnings record and age to calculate benefits.

Retired workers can claim Social Security benefits starting at age 62. However, this will result in a reduction of benefits. Waiting until full retirement age (FRA) results in an earner getting 100% of benefits. Each year, the SSA provides a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The cost-of-living adjustment in 2023 is 8.7%.

It is wise to rely on something other than Social Security benefits during retirement. Consider other ways to generate retirement income, like working after retirement. Or you may have a pension or annuity that will provide some cash flow as well.

Once you receive your own retirement benefits, your family members may qualify for monthly payments based on your work history and record. The program has spouse's benefits for your surviving spouse. It even has survivor benefits for your ex-spouse if your marriage lasted a decade or longer.

Imagine you were receiving Social Security disability benefits before filing for retirement. In that case, your disability benefits will convert to retirement benefits at FRA. You cannot collect both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and retirement benefits simultaneously.

Documents Needed for Filing for Social Security Benefits

You can apply for Social Security benefits online. Filing for benefits online is the fastest and easiest way to file for Social Security benefits. Filing online allows you to complete the application at your own pace and from the comfort of your home. Once online, the system will prompt you to log in or create a Social Security account to complete your application. You may want to watch SSA's video and publication describing the online application process.

You can also apply for benefits with your local Social Security office over the telephone. You can find the toll-free office number by looking under Social Security Office Information. Finally, you can apply by calling the Social Security Administration's national toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

If you are filing for Social Security benefits, you may need to submit the following documents to the SSA:

  • Your original or certified birth certificate or other proof of age
  • Proof of United States citizenship or lawful alien status if not born in the U.S.
  • A copy of your U.S. military service paper(s) if you served before 1968
  • A copy of your last year's W-2 form(s) or self-employment federal income tax return

If you don't have all of the necessary documents, your local Social Security office may be able to find ways to get the information they need. In addition to documents, the SSA requires that you provide the following information contained within the application checklist:

  • Your date and place of birth
  • Your bank's routing and account number for direct deposit
  • Marriage and divorce information, including Social Security numbers of your current or former spouse
  • Information about children, including names and dates of birth
  • Self-employment and employer details for this year and last
  • The name and address of your employer(s) for this year and last year
  • The beginning and end dates of any U.S. military service, as well as the type of duty and branch

When To File for Social Security Retirement Benefits

You may lose some benefits if you delay signing up for Social Security retirement benefits. But the timing is still up to you and your financial situation. Your benefit amount will vary based on when you claim them. For example, if you take early retirement at 62, your Social Security payments will be lower than if you delay until your full retirement age, usually between 66 and 67. You could even wait until you're 70 to receive a higher benefit.

If you would like to receive your benefits as soon as possible, filing for Social Security benefits four months before your birthday on which you become eligible is best. By the time the Social Security office processes your claim, you will have reached the eligible age to receive your benefits.

When To Sign Up for Medicare

Thinking about your health care is a smart idea when planning for retirement. At age 65, you are eligible for Medicare. Enrollment in Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B is automatic for Social Security retirement beneficiaries. Suppose you're not ready to sign up for Social Security benefits. In that case, the SSA advises you to sign up for Medicare three months before your 65th birthday to avoid delaying coverage.

Higher-income retirees may have to pay Medicare prescription drug coverage premiums. Higher-income beneficiaries are single people whose income exceeds $97,000 or married people with an income exceeding $194,000. Someone can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid, a program for low-income individuals.

For more information on signing up for Medicare, visit the SSA's website at or the U.S. government's Medicare website.

Ask a Lawyer About Filing for Social Security

It can be overwhelming knowing when and how to file for Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare. But these might be some of the most important decisions you'll make when it comes to a secure financial future. Sometimes, it makes sense to consult with a Social Security attorney in your area to make sure you're on the right track to collecting all of the benefits you are due.

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