Have you ever waited in line at the DMV or tried to call the IRS?
This kind of errand is nothing any of us would choose to do. You wait in line for an hour, then find out it’s the wrong line, and when you finally get to the desk, you’re in a confusing conversation with a tired person who’s already had a long day – no matter how early you get there. And the “payoff” of the whole day is to pay somebody money to leave you alone.
The irony is that Social Security – arguably one of the most complex government programs – has a relatively straightforward application process. If you have the right information on hand, the online process can take as little as ten minutes.
Let’s take a look at how to file for Social Security and some important considerations along the way to help you avoid mistakes.
Getting Ready to Apply
The process of filing for Social Security takes between ten minutes and a half hour but preparing in advance can help it go more smoothly.
The first step is to ensure you’re eligible to receive Social Security benefits at this point in your age and career (62 is the earliest age, and you have to have worked for at least 10 years). Beyond these basics, you have to carefully consider if you want to take benefits yet.
Want to figure out when you should claim Social Security? Click here to schedule a complimentary Social Security consultation.
Early retirement permanently reduces benefits by 0.56 percent for each month before normal retirement age, while delaying retirement can permanently increase your benefit by between three and eight percent, depending on your age. The Social Security Administration’s Early or Late Retirement? page has a calculator that can help you determine the costs or benefits of these retirement decisions.
If you decide to go ahead with the process, you’ll need some basic information on yourself, your marital history, your children (disabilities, etc.), military service, employment details for the last two years, and the direct deposit information for your bank.
How to Apply for Benefits
There are several different ways to apply for Social Security benefits, but the easiest way is to complete an online application. This can take between ten and thirty minutes if you prepare.
You don’t have to do all of this in one sitting either; you can save the application as you go and come back at any time to complete it. This may be helpful if you have a question that you need to ask your advisor before completing the process.
It’s easy to get started:
- Visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
- Click on the Retirement section.
- Click on Apply for Retirement.
- Click on Start a New Application.
After you have finished the Information About Applicant screen, you will see an Application Number that you should record and keep in a safe place. You can use this number to check the status of your claim online or to continue an application that you’ve already started.
The entire online application process is structured as a step-by-step walk-through, rather than one long form, to make it easier to understand and digest. Once you’re done, you can submit and sign the application electronically, so there’s no need to mail in a printed application or deal with applications that get lost in the mail.
If you’re not comfortable applying online, you can also call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 or visit a local branch to complete the process in person. Keep in mind that in-person visits are by appointment only, so you will need to contact your local office to make an appointment in advance.
Following Up on the Process
The Social Security Administration will contact you with any updates or questions that they have about your application. If you want to check the status, you can visit www.SocialSecurity.gov and sign in and/or create a My Social Security account.
If you have changed your mind, you may be able to withdraw your Social Security claim and reapply at a later date, but the request has to be made within 12 months. You are generally responsible for repaying all of the benefits that you and your family received based on your retirement application and anyone that has received benefits on your application must also consent in writing to the withdrawal of benefits.
The Bottom Line
Learning how to file for Social Security benefits is surprisingly easy, but it’s still a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s always a good idea to speak with a financial advisor before deciding to take these benefits to ensure that you’re making the optimal financial decision. If you can afford to delay benefits, it may be in your best interest to do so to maximize your benefit over time.
At TFS Advisors, we specialize in helping you prepare for important life events and can help you decide when it’s the right time to take Social Security, as well as guide you through the process of applying for benefits. For more information, contact us today for a free consultation.