Dear Savvy Senior,
With my local Social Security offices being closed due to COVID-19, what is the best way to apply for my Social Security retirement benefits?
Because of the pandemic, all Social Security field offices across the country have been closed since March, so you can’t just walk in, talk to a counselor and apply for benefits in person right now. But there are other ways to claim your benefits that are much easier and quicker. Here’s what you should know.
How to Apply?
The easiest and most convenient way to apply for your Social Security benefits during the pandemic is to do it yourself online at SocialSecurity.gov. It usually takes around 15 minutes to complete the application, as long as you’ve gathered all of the required information and documentation (more on that at the bottom of the column). You can also save your application as you go, so you can take a break at any time.
If your situation is complicated or you’re uncomfortable using the Internet to apply, you can have a Social Security employee assist with the process via telephone. To make an appointment call 800-772-1213. (If you’re hearing impaired, you can call 800-325-0778.) The phones are monitored Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. At the time of your appointment, the representative will call you.
If you start to complete the online application form but find that it’s too confusing or complicated, call the agency and set up a phone appointment.
Once you have submitted your application, a representative may contact you with updates or questions about your application. You can also check the status of your application by signing in to your “my Social Security” account at SSA.gov/myaccount.
When to Apply?
You should file one or two months before you want benefits to begin, but if you’re the worrying type, you can do it up to three or four months before. It takes a little time to process the paperwork, so by putting in your application a few months early, you can fix any problems that come up without it interfering with your starting date.
It’s also worth noting that if you start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits before age 65, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B, and you’ll receive your Medicare card about three months before your 65th birthday. It will include instructions to return it if you have work coverage that qualifies you for late enrollment.
But if you decide to delay your retirement benefits, you’ll need to sign up just for Medicare at age 65, which you can also do at SocialSecurity.gov or over the phone at 800-772-1213.
In order to apply for Social Security benefits online or over the phone, you’ll need to be able to document some information about your identity and work history. So before applying, have the following information handy:
• Your Social Security number.
• Your birth certificate (original or certified).
• Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States.
• A copy of your U.S. military service papers if you had military service before 1968.
• A copy of your W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax return for last year.
• Your bank information (including your account number and the bank routing number) where you want your benefits direct deposited to.
For a complete checklist of what you’ll need to complete your application, see SSA.gov/hlp/isba/10/isba-checklist.pdf.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.