There is probably a Social Security office within a short drive of where you live, but there aren't many things you'll need to go to the office for. Most of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) services are offered online, including the application for retirement benefits. However, there are a few things you may need to do that will require a trip to your local Social Security office.
These services are all offered online
The SSA has made many of the most frequently-accessed Social Security services available online. One recent addition to that list is that certain people can now apply for a replacement Social Security card online if they meet certain requirements, through the "my Social Security" account feature. (You can set up your personal account at www.ssa.gov.)
In addition to this, you can also do the following things online:
- Apply for retirement or spousal benefits
- Apply for Medicare
- Apply for disability benefits (SSDI)
- Check the status of your application for any of the above
- View your Social Security statement
- Appeal a decision about your disability claim
- Find out if you qualify for benefits
- Estimate your benefits
- Get a benefit verification letter
- Change your address and telephone number
- Start or change direct deposit
- Get a replacement Medicare card
- Block electronic access to your information
That's quite a list, and like I said, it covers most of the common reasons for which you would have needed to visit a Social Security office. However, it doesn't cover everything.
Social Security services you can't get online
To be perfectly clear, you can still do all of the things on the list above in person if you choose to do so. Even though most commonly accessed Social Security services are offered online doesn't mean that handling them that way the best option for you. Many people simply prefer to handle these things in person or over the phone -- and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. For example, my 87-year-old grandmother isn't going to log on to ssa.gov if she loses her Medicare card, no matter how much more convenient it may be.
And then there are the things you can't yet do online. I mentioned that some people can apply for a replacement Social Security card online, but in fact, that option is not available for much of the population. Specifically, in order to get a replacement card online, you need to be over 18, not requesting a name change, and live in one of eight states or Washington, D.C. Everyone else still needs to fill out an application and present their original birth certificate or other identifying documents. You can do this in person at the Social Security office, or by mail, but I never recommend sending original identifying documents in the mail.
If you wish to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you can't do it online, nor by any other method than in person at an office. You'll need to call the SSA to make an appointment at your local Social Security office. (Technically, you could just show up without an appointment, but as the SSA website gently points out, if you do that, "please anticipate a longer wait time.") However, it's worth mentioning that the SSA plans to make the SSI application available online within the next few years.
Survivor benefits are another thing you can only apply for in person, as the documentation requirements vary depending on your relationship to the deceased, and some of the lists of questions survivors have to answer can be lengthy.
How to find your local office
If you do need to go to your local Social Security office, you can locate the one most convenient to you on the SSA's website here. You can find the office's address, phone number, and its hours of operation. Making an appointment is not required to visit an office, but the SSA highly recommends it, as budget and staff cuts have led to longer wait times in recent years.