How to Apply For Social Security

Applying for Social Security

You can apply for retirement benefits online at or you can call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. Or you can make an appointment to visit any Social Security office to apply in person.

Depending on your circumstances, you will need some or all of the documents listed below. But do not delay applying for benefits because you do not have all the information. If you do not have a document you need, we can help you get it.

Information needed:

Your Social Security number;

Your birth certificate;

Your W-2 forms or self-employment tax return for last year;

Your military ­discharge papers if you had military service;

Your spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security number if he or she is applying for benefits;

Children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers, if you are applying for children’s benefits;

Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you (or a spouse or child applying for benefits) were not born in the United States; and

The name of your financial institution, the routing number and your account number, so your benefits can be deposited directly into your account.

You will need to submit original documents or copies certified by the issuing of?ce. You can mail or bring them to Social Security. We will make photocopies and return your documents.

Right to appeal

If you disagree with a decision made on your claim, you can appeal it. For an explanation of the steps you can take, ask for The Appeals Process (Publication No. 05-10041).

You have the right to be represented by an attorney or other qualified person of your choice. For more information, ask for Your Right To Representation (Publication No. 05-10075).

If you work and get benefits at the same time

You can continue to work and still receive retirement benefits. Your earnings in (or after) the month you reach your full retirement age will not reduce your Social Security benefits. However, your benefits will be reduced if your earnings exceed certain limits for the months before you reach your full retirement age. (See Age to receive full Social Security benefits, to find your full retirement age.)

Here is how it works:

If you are younger than full retirement age, $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $2 in earnings you have above the annual limit.

In the year you reach your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced $1 for every $3 you earn over an annual limit until the month you reach full retirement age. Once you reach full retirement age, you can keep working, and your Social Security benefit will not be reduced no matter how much you earn.

If, during the year, your earnings are higher or lower than you estimated, let us know as soon as possible so we can adjust your benefits.

If you want more information on how earnings affect your retirement benefit, ask for How Work Affects Your Benefits (Publication No. 05-10069), which has current annual and monthly earnings limits.

A special monthly rule

A special rule applies to your earnings for one year, usually your first year of retirement. Under this rule, you can receive a full Social Security check for any month you earn under a certain limit, regardless of your yearly earnings. If you are self-employed, the work you do in your business is taken into consideration as well.

If you want more information on how earnings affect your retirement benefit, ask for How Work Affects Your Benefits (Publication No. 05-10069), which has current annual and monthly earnings limits.

Your benefits may be taxable

About one-third of people who get Social Security have to pay income taxes on their benefits.

If you file a federal tax return as an “individual,” and your combined income* is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay taxes on 50 ­percent of your Social Security benefits. If your combined income* is more than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your Social Security benefits is subject to income tax.

If you file a joint return, you may have to pay taxes on 50 percent of your benefits if you and your spouse have a combined income* that is between $32,000 and $44,000. If your combined income* is more than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your Social Security benefits is subject to income tax.

If you are married and file a separate return, you probably will pay taxes on your benefits.

At the end of each year, we will mail you a Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099) showing the amount of benefits you received. You can use this statement when you complete your federal income tax return to find out if you have to pay taxes on your benefits.

Although you are not required to have federal taxes withheld, you may find it easier than paying quarterly estimated tax payments.

For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service’s toll-free telephone number, 1-800-829-3676, to ask for Publication 554, Tax Guide for Seniors, and Publication 915, Social Security And Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.

*On the 1040 tax return, your “combined income” is the sum of your adjusted gross income plus nontaxable interest plus one-half of your Social Security benefits.

Pensions from work not covered by Social Security

If you get a pension from work where you paid Social Security taxes, that pension will not affect your Social Security benefits. However, if you get a pension from work that was not covered by Social Security for example, the federal civil service, some state or local government employment or work in a foreign country—your Social Security benefit may be reduced.

For more information, ask for Government Pension Offset (Publication No. 05-10007), for government workers who may be eligible for Social Security benefits on the earnings record of a spouse; and Windfall Elimination Provision (Publication No. 05-10045), for people who worked in another country or government workers who also are eligible for their own Social Security benefits.

Leaving the United States

If you are a U.S. citizen, you can travel to or live in most foreign countries without affecting your Social Security benefits. There are, however, a few countries where we cannot send Social Security payments. These countries are Cambodia, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and areas that were in the former Soviet Union (other than Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia). However, exceptions can be made for certain eligible beneficiaries in countries other than Cuba and North Korea. For more information about these exceptions, please contact your local Social Security office.

If you work outside the United States, different rules apply in determining if you can get benefits.

For more information, call us to ask for a copy of the publication, Your Payments While You Are Outside The United States (Publication No. 05-10137).

A word about Medicare

Medicare is a health insurance plan for people who are age 65 or older. People who are disabled or have permanent kidney failure or have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) can get Medicare at any age.

Medicare has four parts

1.       Hospital insurance (Part A) helps pay for inpatient hospital care and certain follow-up services.

2.       Medical insurance (Part B) helps pay for doctors’ services, outpatient hospital care and other medical services.

3.       Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) are available in many areas. People with Medicare Parts A and B can choose to receive all of their health care services through a provider organization under Part C.

4.       Prescription drug coverage (Part D) helps pay for medications doctors prescribe for medical treatment.

If you are already getting Social Security benefits when you turn 65, your Medicare starts automatically. If you are not getting Social Security, you should sign up for Medicare before your 65th birthday, even if you are not ready to retire. For more information, ask for Medicare ( Publication No. 05-10043).

Help with Medicare expenses for people with low income

If you have a low income and few resources, your state may pay your Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other “out-of-pocket” medical expenses, such as deductibles and coinsurance.

Only your state can decide whether you qualify for help under this program. If you think you qualify, contact your state or local medical assistance (Medicaid) agency, social services or welfare office.

“Extra help” with Medicare prescription costs

If you have limited income and resources, you may qualify for extra help to pay for your prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. Social Security’s role is to help you understand how you may qualify and to process your application for extra help. To see if you qualify or to apply, call Social Security’s toll-free number or visit our website.

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