Can you apply for Social Security online? The answer to that question is you betcha. The Social Security administration welcomes applications online, in person, and even over the phone. To do so in person, just visit your local Social Security office. To do so over the phone, call (800) 772-1213, to do so online, click over to the Social Security Administration (SSA) website. There's more to know, though, so read on.
When to apply for Social Security benefits
Let's first tackle another topic -- when to start collecting your benefits -- because it's far more important than how you apply. (We'll get to that, too, though.)
Per the Social Security administration, each of us has, based on our birthday, a "full" retirement age. For those born in 1960 or later, it's 67. For those born before, it might be 65 or 66. You'll receive your full benefits if you start collecting at your full retirement age, but you can make your checks about 8% fatter for every year you delay starting, until age 70. Likewise, you can start collecting as early as age 62. That will mean smaller checks, but many more of them, largely wiping out the difference, for those who end up with relatively typical life spans.
Thus, it's smart to study the matter, crunch numbers for your personal financial situation, and come up with a strategy regarding when you begin collecting Social Security. Married folks have even more thinking to do, as there are many more strategies that they might use.
What you'll need when you apply for Social Security
Regardless of how you apply, you'll need to be prepared to produce various documents. There's no definitive list of exactly which ones will be required, but the SSA advises that it might ask for:
- Your original birth certificate, a certified copy of it, or some other proof of your birth
- Proof of your U.S. citizenship or your status as a legal alien
- A copy of your U.S. military service paper(s) if you served in the military before 1968. (A DD-214-Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty form would be good here.)
- A copy of your W-2 form(s) and/or your tax return for last year if you were self-employed
Those are the main items you may need, but the SSA also lists other information that you should be able to provide:
- Your birth date, place of birth, and Social Security number. (If you've ever used another Social Security number, be sure to inform the SSA, too.)
- The name, birth date, and Social Security number of your spouse, if you have one, as well as any former spouses. For each of your marriages, you should be able to provide the wedding date and location, and dates of divorce or death, if either happened.
- The names of any unmarried children you have who are younger than 18; 18 or 19 and in secondary school; or who are disabled since before they turned 22.
- Whether you have ever applied for Social Security benefits, Medicare, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) before -- or whether anyone has done so on your behalf. If any of these were done based on someone else's Social Security record, the SSA will need details on that.
You'll also need to specify when you want your Social Security benefits to start being paid to you -- and, if you're within three months of turning 65, whether you want to enroll in Part B of Medicare. Note that you should apply for your Social Security benefits at least three months before you want them to commence arriving.
Here's an important detail: If you're not receiving Social Security benefits and are still working and not ready to retire, don't fully ignore the online application process -- because of Medicare. Whether you want your retirement benefits anytime soon or not, you should still sign up for just Medicare three months before your 65th birthday. Being late to do so can be costly.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to you, you'll need to furnish the routing number of your bank or financial institution where you'd like you Social Security payments direct-deposited and your account number there.
If all this information that you may need to supply has you hyperventilating a bit, perhaps because you have no idea where to find some of it, fear not. It's OK to apply while missing a few bits of information. The Social Security Administration may be able to help you out, tracking down some of the info.
How to apply for Social Security online
And now, at long last, a more detailed answer to the "Can I apply for Social Security online?" question: Once you're ready to apply for Social Security online, click over to the SSA's Apply for Retirement Benefits nook.
There you can start the online application process. You won't have to start and finish it all in one session. The system allows you to stop at various points, save what you've entered so far, and return to the application later. That can be especially helpful if you need to find some required information to enter. You can even go back and make changes or fix errors, until you save the application for the last time and click the "Submit Now" button.
As you go through the application form online, it will tell you what information it needs and what documents you will need to provide. Those you'll mail in, per its instructions. Once you're done, you'll get a receipt with a confirmation number. That will permit you to check on the status of your application online later.
Be sure that you're filling out the form on a secure network, to prevent any snooping or attempts at identity theft or fraud. You don't want to be entering Social Security numbers and other important personal information over an open network in a coffee shop, for example.
Why apply for Social Security online?
Applying for Social Security online makes a lot of sense for most of us. It lets us avoid a trip to our local Social Security office and it helps us complete the process at times of our choosing. Remember to be strategic with Social Security, too -- carefully planning when and how to receive your benefits (and coordinating with your spouse) can net you a lot more money.
Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns no shares of any company mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.