Based on my experience, I have a few words to say about how to apply for Social Security benefits. This reflects my experience and opinion, you may have other experiences and opinions.
What this article is not.
This post is not about what age to apply. There are many opinions about what age to apply for Social Security benefits. And this is not one of them. If you want to consider when is the best time for you, you can search online about it, you’ll find plenty of opinions. A better way is to speak to a professional planner who specializes in Social Security.
When this article is.
This post is about some of the nuts and bolts about applying.
How to apply for Social Security.
Let’s assume you are of an age you can receive Social Security benefits and you have decided it is time for you to apply. There are three ways to apply. Two are good. There is a third way, but it is not good, in my view. Read on.
You can apply online.
You can apply online here: https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/rib
In my view, this a great and simple way to apply. Be sure you write down the confirmation number at the end of the application process if you apply online. If there is some question, they will let you know, either when you apply or inform you later, that additional information is needed. You may need to bring paperwork to a Social Security office.
You can apply at a local Social Security office.
This is also a great way. Make an appointment first (see below). Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment. Bring your paperwork to your appointment, such as Social Security card, driver’s license, passport or other identification, etc. (If you have a green card, bring it and your passport.) Since you will get your Social Security benefit by direct deposit, bring a voided blank check. You can find the address of your local Social Security office here: https://www.ssa.gov/locator
About calling Social Security on the phone..
When you call 1-800-772-1213 to speak to Social Security, expect to be on the phone for at least one hour. (There are 61 million people in the U.S. collecting Social Security benefits, and sometimes it seems all of them are on the phone waiting ahead of you. Not true. At any one time, only some of them are on the phone calling.) 99% of the time you are on hold. I seem to recall they had a feature where you can leave your number and they will call you back, but the last time I called I did get not this option. This was a great and useful feature. (If this is available and you do choose to use it, they will give you an estimate of when the call back will happen.)
However, applying for benefits by phone is not recommended.
This is the third way to apply. In my experience, this is the worst way to apply. From what I have experienced, when you apply on the phone, your paperwork is delayed at least one month before anything moves forward, and it is possible for the expected not to happen. In occasional cases, nothing might happen.
Make/Have an appointment before you show up at a local Social Security office.
Most of the time, appointments are the best way to get to speak to someone face to face at a local Social Security office. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment. Unfortunately, the earliest available appointments sometimes are several weeks away.
There is often a drop-in schedule for people without appointments.
There is a scheduled time for drop-ins. Call Social Security and ask when is the drop-in date and time. Bring your paperwork.
When going to a local Social Security office, go early. If the weather is good enough, arrive before the office opens and stand online. It is worth it, in my view. In many places, there will be a line as much as an hour before the doors open. The earlier you arrive, the closer you will be to the front of the line. In most offices, once they open the doors you obtain a numbered ticket (often from a kiosk), and people are called more or less in the order in which they arrived.
The first person you speak to at a Social Security office is there to determine what you need, and to assess the difficulty of your request. After some questions, it is likely you will be asked to wait for the appropriate person to speak to. Therefore, you may want to bring something to keep yourself busy, like a book or something to look at on your cell phone, etc.
Applying for benefits at a Social Security office.
At a Social Security office, when speaking to an examiner, it is possible you will be asked to write out your request on a form (SSA-795). Ask the examiner for advice on what to write. Here is what I wrote (enter the desired date and phone number):
“I request benefits to be started effective (DATE). Please call me at (MY PHONE NUMBER) to update me on my benefit status, and when my first benefit will be deposited in my account.”
The examiner will stamp your form with a date stamp, and give you a copy. Then you should get a phone call in a few days. In my case it took a week, and the person who called me told me exactly how much money to expect, and when the first payment will be expected to be deposited in my account.
What to do if there are problems?
You can always call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 about the problem. This is the first way to try to address the problem.
However, there are other ways if you cannot get your problem fixed by calling. Your congresspeople all have staff that handles constituent problems with federal agencies. That means you can call or write one of your two senators or your representative and ask for “casework” help. Their websites will have instructions on how to contact them. Sometimes a phone call to your congressperson’s office is best, sometimes they request to fill out a form online or and mail it to their offices.
You can find the name, website, and office address of your senators here: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
You can find the name, website, and office address of your representative here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
In my experience, the people who work at Social Security, whether on the phone or at a local office, are hardworking and diligent. However, they work in a system with many regulations and processes and complications, so sometimes things do not work out as expected, at least at first. If you have a problem, don’t give up. With persistence, you can get it resolved.
How has this process been for you? Smooth sailing or choppy waters?