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Applying For Social Security Benefits

Updated on October 13, 2011

When To Apply

Maybe the question isn’t when you can apply for Social Security benefits but rather, when should you. The question is important because it directly translates into how much your monthly benefit will be.

Currently, the earliest you can retire is 62. However, if you elect to retire then, the amount you receive can be reduced by as much as 25%. Or you can opt to wait until the full retirement age of 66. This is where the facts get a little confusing. People can retire as early as 62 or as late as 70. But wait, didn’t you just read full retirement age was 66?

Yes, you did. What this simply means is you can postpone retiring until age 70. Why should you wait until 70 you ask? Because, for each year you delay retirement, up to age 70, your benefits will increase by 8%. There are no advantages to waiting any longer than that.

In A Nutshell

So, here it is in a nutshell. The earliest a person can apply for benefits is 62. But they will receive less than those waiting until full retirement age. That seems simple, right? Not so fast. The government, in its infinite wisdom, has muddled the facts to the point know one can understand what they’re talking about without hiring legal representation.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) now says full retirement age depends on your birthday. For the baby boomer, that’s 66. The age used to be 65 for many years, but now some Einstein has figured out another equation to keep us confused. How can you play the game if the rules keep changing?

As said before. the age to receive full retirement benefits from Social Security was 65 for many years, but that was recently changed. There is now an incremental scale to determine your full retirement age based on the year you were born. According to this scale those born after 1937, the age they're eligible for full benefits will be later than 65. What? Say that again!

New Policy

The new policy states the actual retirement age increases in two-month increments for each year after 1937. That means complete retirement age for a person born in 1938 would be 65 and two months. Broken down it means those born after 1960, would have to be 67.

Social Security retirement benefits are available to those who have paid a set amount into the system and reached retirement age. Eligible applicants can decide to take early retirement or go for full retirement age to receive the maximum amount. Benefits are based on lifetime earnings and life expectancy at retirement.

To receive Social Security requires both reaching a certain age and earning enough “credits.” Credits are earned by working and paying Social Security taxes. You need 40 credits (10 years of work) to qualify. If you stop working, you stop earning credits until you return to work. You cannot get benefits until you have earned 40 credits.

Sometimes people are forced to retire early because of health related issues. If you’re unable to work, apply for Social Security disability benefits. The amount is the same as full retirement benefits. If you are receiving disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, those benefits will be converted to retirement benefits. Your Social Security retirement benefit payment is based on how much you made during your working years. The more you earned, the more you’ll get when you retire.

Your Benefit

The big question on a lot of people’s minds these days is will social security even be solvent when you do decide to retire. According to some predictions, unless something drastic is done soon funds will be depleted by 2042.

Facts like these are detailed in an annual report the Board of Trustees of the Social Security Trust Funds submits to congress. Included in these reports are information about current fund status, projections and how long Social Security will remain solvent.

This report provides detailed information about the current status of the funds, their projected condition and how long Social Security will be solvent. Reports from 2004 indicated Social Security was rapidly running out of money and couldn’t sustain current benefits over the long term. That is unless eligibility requirements were drastically changed and Social Security taxes were significantly increased.

Why is that? Basic math skills will tell you if the number of people paying in is lower than the number of people taking out the system is doomed. So, despite reassurance by government officials the nation’s seniors are still wringing their hands. On another note, if the amount of funds paid into the system is to be paid by future workers, why do we allow abortionists to wipe out that population? Additionally, with today’s dismal economic outlook and high unemployment rate, many may be forced to retire early just to have an income.

However, once you decide to retire what is your next step? You must submit an application. There are three ways to do this. You can do it online at, call 800-772-1213 or visit an office in person. The SSA suggests applications be submitted four months in advance.

To complete your application you will need the following information.

Social Security number

Citizenship status

Name, date and place of birth

Military discharge papers if you served on active duty in a branch of the military

Marital status, spouses name if applicable and their SSN, date and place of birth

Same information for any former spouses

Names of any unmarried children younger than 18

Name and address of each company you worked for in the preceding 2 years and estimated earnings

If you are within 3 months of becoming 65, you need to inform them if you are enrolling in Medicare

More information may be needed if you are self employed or worked in a government job providing a pension

You can choose to have your benefits paid through direct deposit. To do this you will also need your banks name, account number and bank’s routing number.


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    • 4seazons profile image

      Barbara 6 years ago from Queens

      Extremely helpful! I just applied and they sent me papers for disability although I was applying for Retirement. Didn't know that the amount received was the same. I can't work but was just asking for my regular pension money. Will look into this further. Even if they deny me disability at least I have looked at both options. I am 62 and have decided not to wait until 65.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      wiseoldaccountant, OK, I linked you.

    • wiseoldaccountant profile image

      wiseoldaccountant 6 years ago from Buffalo and Orchard Park NY

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      So much depends on the circumstances and what you can live on. Me, I think I'm going to go at 62. No jobs anyway.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      JY, This is a lot of useful information if you are at that stage of life. You lose so much money by retiring at 62 versus 65, but the 2 month increments could really add up also. Very detailed article.