The step by step 411 on signing up for social security benefits

Aug 10, 2012, 9:04 a.m.
Applying for Social Security is easier than ever before, millions have created a My Social Security account online.

As we enter mid-life, our thoughts naturally turn to retirement plans, dreams for the second half of life, as well as goals we want to accomplish. Determining eligibility for social security benefits should be included on everyone's bucket list of things to do. Millions of baby-boomers nearing retirement are asking, "How do I sign up for Social Security?" Knowing where to go for the right information could make the process a little easier and less confusing.

Contact the U.S. Social Security Administration online at www.ssa.gov/retirement.html or by telephone at 1-800-772-1213, or at 1-800-325-0778, for hearing impaired assistance. You should be administered The Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool that will best determine if you are eligible for benefits. You can use this tool yourself or be guided through it by telephone.

If you prefer face-to-face contact, visit your local Social Security office, but call ahead to make an appointment to avoid long waits. If you are an American citizen but live outside the U.S., contact the nearest U.S. Social Security office, Veterans Affairs Regional Office, embassy or consulate for proper procedures.

Once contact is made, the eligibility for benefits will be determined based on several criteria:

Anyone applying on their own benefit record must be at least 61 years and nine months old.

Applications will not be accepted more than four months prior to your 62nd birthday.

Eligibility will depend upon the amount of social security the applicant or their spouse paid in during a lifetime.

Be prepared to supply required documents. The documents requested will depend upon individual circumstances, but most commonly are:

  • a Social Security card;
  • an original birth certificate or a certified copy;
  • proof of citizenship or lawful status if you were born outside the U.S.;
  • a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty if military service was completed prior to 1968;
  • a copy of a tax return showing self-employment tax for the previous year or a copy of a W-2 form.

There are other circumstances that could also qualify someone for Social Security besides retirement. Benefits can also be issued on another person's record regardless of the applicant's age, for example, a current spouse, a divorced spouse or deceased spouse. If you are under the full retirement age and qualify on your own record for benefits, the government will pay those benefits first. However, if you also qualify for a larger amount as a widow or widower, you are normally allowed a combination of benefits equal to the higher amount and could begin receiving them before your retirement age.

Applying for Social Security is easier than ever before, according to Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, who said millions have created a My Social Security account online, making it simple to apply and view their Social Security statement each month. Social Security has a gull gamut of electronic services at www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement, and can be accessed securely and conveniently by anyone 18 or older wanting to view their own payments or earnings.

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