How to Apply for Social SecurityHow to Apply for Social Security

Ever since 1935 when Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, workers in the United States have been paying a certain percentage of their income into the social security fund each year. The goal of social security is to ensure that when people reach an age where they can no longer reasonably work (or should, arguably, no longer have to), they have a financial security net to help them cover their needs in the remaining years of life.

Assuming your parents started working sometime after 1935, they’ve been paying into social security their entire life. If you’ve been worried about how to cover the costs of their care as they age, social security should offer some solace (although it won’t cover everything).

Who’s Eligible for Social Security

In order to apply for the social security retirement benefit, a person must be at least 61 years and 9 months old (since 62 is the official minimum age to receive benefits, but you can apply a couple of months early). They’ll also need to have worked for at least 10 years in the United States – that’s the amount of time it takes to earn the mandatory number of credits needed to start taking advantage of social security payments.

How to Apply for Social Security

Applying is simple. You will need the applicant’s:

  • Original birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • A copy of their military service papers (if relevant)
  • A copy of either their W2 or tax return (if self-employed) from the last year

With that information in hand, you can fill out the online application in about 15 minutes.  You’ll be instructed at the end where to submit the documents.

If you’d prefer a method other than online, you can apply by phone by calling (800) 772-1213 between 7 AM and 7 PM Monday through Friday. Or you can set up an appointment for your parent to apply in person at your local social security office, which you can find the address for here.

Tips for Getting the Most out of Social Security

Understanding how to make the most of your family’s social security payments can get pretty complicated. One simple tip to know is that it’s often best to wait. Someone who signs up to start receiving benefits at 62 will only be eligible for a portion of the payment available, yet that amount will stay consistent throughout the years benefits are paid out.

Those that wait until 70 will be eligible for the full amount. For those that continue to work for years into their 60’s, the amount they’ll be eligible to earn will be higher than if they’d taken retirement at the first moment it became available.

Where things get complicated is for those that are either married now or have been in the past. Whether or not it’s best for an individual to take their own benefit or their spousal benefit, and which to take when varies based on the particular circumstances. We won’t get into all the complicated nuances of the laws here, but you can find more details in this Forbes article that can help you better understand what choice is best for your family.

Between health care costs and all those random expenses we don’t always think to account for, life often gets surprisingly expensive for seniors. Social security likely won’t cover everything your parents need (it’s good to have a healthy retirement account and insurance for the rest), but it will help offset some of the costs of life for seniors.  

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and lifelong student with an ongoing curiousity to learn and explore new things. She turns that interest to researching and exploring subjects helpful to seniors and their families for SeniorAdvisor.com.

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