How-To Guide on Applying for Social Security Benefits
Benefits acquired from the Social Security Administration can help you remain financially secure after reaching your retirement years or suffering an illness or injury that results in disability. Throughout your career, you pay into this program to receive a healthy monthly stipend after your working years end. In addition to economic security, this program may also provide you with access to free or low-cost medical care through a Medicare plan.
You must ensure you meet the eligibility requirements and satisfactorily complete the application for benefits to receive your acceptance letter from the Social Security office. Start your journey toward economic security by utilizing the following guide to navigate through the application process from beginning to end.
Review Social Security Administration Benefits
Before you proceed with the application process, it is important to look at the available programs to see which benefits you may qualify to receive. The Social Security Administration offers access to three main programs: Retirement, disability and survivor benefits.
Upon reaching retirement age, you may apply to receive monthly benefit checks through your golden years. Officials at the Social Security office average your annual earnings across the last 35 years to find your monthly allowance. If you did not work a full 35 years prior to applying for retirement benefits, officials fill in the missing years with zeroes, which will decrease your average earnings and reduce your resulting benefits check.
If you lost your spouse prior to retirement age, you may be able to collect Social Security benefits on your deceased spouse’s behalf. Like retirement benefits, the total monthly payout amount is based on career earnings of the deceased individual. However, your age and the age of your children actually determines the percentage of benefits received every month.
Disability coverage kicks in after an illness or injury prevents you from working. Since disability often occurs prior to the full retirement age, the Social Security office utilizes the average indexed monthly earnings formula to determine your benefit amount. Officials utilize annual earning totals from several years back to perform the calculations using this formula. The most you can receive from Social Security disability in 2017 is $2,687 a month, but this amount changes with nationwide economic fluctuations.
Confirm That You Meet Eligibility Requirements
Confirming your eligibility requirements will prevent you from wasting your time completing unnecessary application paperwork. Each Social Security program has its own set of eligibility factors to consider.
To qualify for retirement benefits through the Social Security Administration, you must have worked for at least 10 years prior to applying. You can start receiving retirement benefits at a reduced rate at age 62, but the full benefits do not kick in until the full retirement age of 70 years old. If you delay applying for your benefits until hitting age 70, you will receive an increased benefit amount. Medicare benefits are automatically included if you apply after reaching age 65.
Full survivor benefits are available to widows and widowers after reaching age 70. Reduced benefits are available at age 60, or 50 for disabled individuals, to help those suffering economic hardship after the loss of their spouse. Remarriage does not impact benefit eligibility or assigned amounts. Widows and widowers who are caring for a child under 16 years of age can apply for benefits anytime.
To receive Social Security disability benefits, you must adequately prove that you are suffering from a medical disability. Your medical records or doctor’s paperwork must show that you are unable to work due to the injury or illness in question. You will also need to show low income and limited assets or have enough work credits to qualify for the program. Work credit and income requirements vary by personal factors, such as your age and residency location.
Gather Your Required Application Documents for Social Security
Once you confirm that you are likely eligible for the appropriate Social Security program, you will need to gather the documents required for the application process.
Depending on your selected Social Security Administration benefits program, you may need:
- Driver’s license or State ID
- Birth certificate
- Social Security card
- Tax returns for the past 3 years
- Military discharge paperwork
- Medical records, including test and scan results
- Names, dates, and locations for all medical tests and scans
- Medication list
- Adult Disability Report completed by your doctor
- Your doctors’ contact information
- Proof of income or financial support, such as benefit letters or pay stubs
- Spouse’s income information, citizenship forms, and death certificate
If you cannot acquire any of the above items, you may proceed with the application and the Social Security officials will help you out.
Complete an Application Online, Over the Phone or In Person
You can apply for early retirement benefits up to four months in advance, starting at age 61 and 9 months. You may complete the application online, over the phone or in person after scheduling an appointment. The online form takes about 20 minutes to complete if you have your supporting documentation on hand. Simply fill the boxes with the requested information and hit submit to complete the application process.
You can also complete your Social Security disability application online using a similar form. You will need to provide your completed Adult Disability Report and medical records to allow Social Security officials to confirm your eligibility for the program. If you need to acquire more information before proceeding with the online application, you can save the document and return at a later time.
To apply for survivor’s benefits, you must call 1-800-772-1213 to schedule an appointment at your local Social Security office. You should bring your entire stack of supporting documentation to the application appointment to avoid processing delays.
Wait for an Approval or Denial Letter
All three application types take an average of four months, or up to 120 days, to process. You should expect to receive a decision any time after the three-month mark has passed. You can easily check the status of your application by calling the Social Security office or returning to the online application you completed.
If you receive an approval letter, your disability check should arrive in your mailbox or bank account soon after receipt of that letter. If you receive a denial letter, immediately file an appeal to have your case reconsidered. Many applicants only receive their disability benefits after completing their appeal hearing.