August 17, 2010 in Business

Simple preparation can ease filing for Social Security benefits

Sarah Rieger

Q. How do I apply for Social Security benefits?

A. When you are ready to apply for retirement, disability or spousal benefits, you can do so online, over the phone, or in person at a Social Security office.

To apply online, go to By phone, call (800) 772-1213. Call volume is generally higher early in the week and toward the beginning of the month. You may want to time your call so you don’t have to wait for help. If you are hearing impaired, call TTY at (800) 325-0778.

You can find your local Social Security office in the blue pages of your telephone book; or get the address online at

The Social Security Administration will require documentation from you when you apply. They will make copies of original documents. SSA will let you know if additional documentation is needed. They will want the following:

• Your Social Security number.

• Birth certificate.

• Tax documentation such as a W-2 or if you are self-employed, last year’s tax return.

• Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the U.S.

• Military discharge papers if you had military service.

• Your bank information so any benefits can be directly deposited.

• Marriage certificate (if signing up on a spouse’s record).

• If applying for dependent and/or spouse you will need similar documentation for them as listed above.

After applying for benefits, the SSA office will notify you whether your benefits are approved or not. If you do not agree with their decision, you have 60 days from the date you receive the information to appeal. You must submit your appeal in writing. I recommend you keep copies of your documentation and send it certified mail or personally deliver them to your local office.

The benefit you receive depends on your work history. For people born in 1929 or later, you need 40 Social Security credits – about 10 years of work – to qualify for retirement benefits. Each year, SSA sends out your statement about three months before your birthday. Your statement gives a summary of your earnings for which Social Security taxes were paid. It gives projections of your benefits for retirement as well as for disability and death. It also gives survivor benefit projections. These projections can be helpful for your financial planning as you figure out how Social Security will pay during your lifetime.

Now is an excellent time to review your benefits through the SSA website so you have a better grasp that Social Security is only meant to help with your retirement needs, not cover them in whole. It is important you continue to save for retirement on your own. Contact your financial planner to explore the best ways to prepare for your future.

Sarah Rieger is a certified financial planner and member of the local Financial Planning Association chapter. Send questions to askaplanner@

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