After paying into Social Security for decades, you're finally ready to start getting some money back in 2023. Congratulations! Signing up for benefits is a big step for many seniors, but it can also be a little confusing. Here are three things you ought to know before you apply for Social Security next year.

1. You won't get your first check right away

It can take a few weeks for the government to process your Social Security application, so don't expect to see money in your bank account the day you sign up. The government must first verify you're eligible for benefits and then get you on its payment schedule. 

Two seniors looking at computer and documents.

Image source: Getty Images.

You can speed things up a little by having all the necessary documentation ready when you apply, including:

  • Your birth certificate or other proof of your age
  • Your Social Security number
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship if you weren't born in the U.S.
  • A copy of your W-2 or self-employed tax return from the previous year
  • Dates of current and previous marriages
  • U.S. military service dates and branches
  • Employer names and dates from the past two years
  • Bank account information to set up your direct deposit

It's also important to note that Social Security benefits are paid in the month after they're due. So if you request that your benefits begin in January, you won't actually get your first check until February. You'll have to cover your expenses on your own in the meantime.

And if you're applying as soon as you turn 62, you may not even be eligible for benefits in your birth month unless you were born on the first or second of the month. If not, you become eligible in the month after your birth month.

You're able to apply for Social Security up to four months in advance of when you'd like your benefits to start. It's usually a good idea to sign up early if you'd like your checks to arrive promptly in the month you've chosen.

2. Your age at sign-up affects the size of your checks

The Social Security Administration assigns everyone a full retirement age (FRA) based on their birth year. Here's a table to help you find yours:

Birth Year(s)

Full Retirement Age (FRA)

1943 to 1954



66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1960 and later


Data source: Social Security Administration.

You must wait until your FRA if you want the full benefit you've earned based on your work history. But you can sign up earlier or later if you want. This will affect your monthly benefit, though.

Signing up before your FRA shrinks your checks, while delaying benefits past your FRA increases them until you reach your maximum benefit at 70. Someone with a FRA of 66 will only get 75% of their full benefit per check if they sign up at 62, but they could be eligible for up to 132% of their full benefit per check if they delay benefits until 70. Those with a FRA of 67 get 70% of their full benefit per check at 62 and 124% at 70.

It's up to you to decide when you'd like to sign up. Some people choose to start early because they have a short life expectancy or they need Social Security to pay their bills. Others who expect to live into their 80s or beyond choose to delay to maximize their lifetime benefit. Weigh all your options when deciding what's right for you.

3. Your take-home check might be less than you're expecting

The government uses a formula to determine the Social Security benefit you qualify for based on your work history and your age at sign-up. But this isn't always the same as the amount you receive in your bank account.

Social Security beneficiaries who are also on Medicare have their Part B premiums automatically withheld from their monthly checks. And the government may garnish the benefits of those who owe federal taxes, alimony, or child support.

If you have any questions about how much of your benefit you'll actually take home each month, reach out to the Social Security Administration for guidance. Having an accurate idea of how much you'll receive from the program is key to budgeting successfully in retirement.