June 23, 2024

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Applying for Social Security benefits is a major financial decision, and deciding when to do it can have significant effects on the amount of money you receive in retirement and when.

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Applying for benefits online is perhaps the easiest way to apply for Social Security benefits. You can begin your online application through the SSA portal’s website. Before you apply, however, there are some important things to take into consideration. 

When to Claim

Deciding when to claim benefits is the single most important determining factor in how much benefit you will receive. The earliest you can apply is at age 62, with the latest being age 70. Claiming benefits at 62 is considered early, and full retirement age (FRA) — which is 67 for most people — is the age at which you receive your “full” benefit. If you decide to take benefits at 62, your benefit will be reduced, but you will receive more checks. In the reverse, if you decide to take benefits at 70, your monthly check will be larger, sometimes by as much as 30% more than if you had taken benefits earlier. 

Everyone’s benefit amount is different, and tied to their own working record, which counts the 35 highest income earning years toward Social Security benefits. Additionally there are also spousal and survivor benefits one can apply for based on their spouse’s earnings record, which can sometimes add up to an additional $800 per month. By creating a mySocialSecurity account online, you can see your own personal earnings history and estimated benefit amount depending on which age you plan to claim benefits. This is an important and resourceful tool in retirement planning, as how much you receive from Social Security will determine lifestyle decisions later on like where you live and how. 

Before you apply, you will need to gather certain documents, like W2 forms, proof of U.S. citizenship, dates of previous marriages if you were married, and bank information among others. You can receive more detailed information about documents needed to apply through the Checklist for Online Medicare, Retirement, and Spouses Application.

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Applying online is the easiest and fastest way to plan out your Social Security benefits, but you can call or visit your local office to apply, as well.

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About the Author

Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who studied post-industrial capitalist structures at New York University. She has eight years of experience with concentrations in asset management, portfolio management, private client banking, and investment research. Georgina has written for Investopedia and WallStreetMojo.