The Social Security Administration (SSA) advises you to apply for retirement benefits three months before you want your benefits to begin. And even if you have no plans to receive retirement benefits, you should still sign-up for Medicare three months before age 65.  (For details, click here.)

You can apply for retirement benefits online. Connect to the Internet Retirement Insurance Benefits application and follow the instructions. You can also apply by calling the SSA’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. Representatives there can make an appointment for your application to be taken over the telephone or at any Social Security Office. (Don’t know where your local Social Security Office is? Click here for the SSA’s Social Security Locator.) People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call the SSA’s toll-free “TTY” number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 A.M. and 7 P.M. on Monday through Friday.

When you apply for benefits, you will need the following information:

  • 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 applying for children’s benefits;
  • proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you (or a spouse or child is applying for benefits) were not born in the U.S.; and
  • the name of your bank and your account number if you want your benefits directly deposited into your account.

You will need to submit original documents or copies certified by the issuing office. You can mail or bring them to the SSA. The SSA will make photocopies and return the documents to you.