How do I Sign Up for SS Retirement Benefits?

by Diane Dilov-Schultheis, studioD

The Social Security Administration provides benefits to more than 55 million Americans in 2012, according to AARP. A large number of these individuals rely on their Social Security benefits for 90 percent or more of their income. Understand your Social Security retirement benefits, including how to apply for them, so you receive all that you have earned.


Before you can sign up for Social Security retirement benefits, you must be certain you qualify. When you work at a job, you pay Social Security taxes, but you need to work a set amount of time to be eligible for them. If you were born in 1929 or later, you need 10 years of work, or 40 “work credits.” Those born before 1929 need fewer years. Credits are based on your earnings. In 2012, you earn one work credit for each $1,130 of earnings and can earn a maximum of four credits per year. Contact the Social Security Administration by phone or online to verify your work credits.

Retirement Ages

You can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70, which is considered full retirement age. Your retirement age greatly influences the amount of your benefits for the rest of your life, so you should consider this before signing up for Social Security. The earlier you sign up, the less you will receive. If you sign up at age 62, your monthly benefit is reduced a fraction of a percent for every month before your full retirement age. Compare your monthly Social Security retirement benefits using the Social Security Administration Benefits Planner.

Documents Needed

The documents required to sign up for Social Security retirement benefits will differ depending on your situation. The information needed includes your birth certificate, your Social Security number, last year’s W-2 forms or self-employment tax return, military discharge papers, proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status and the name, routing number and account number of your financial institution. All documents must be original or certified copies. These documents will be copied and returned. If you don’t have an account at a bank or other financial institution, you can get your benefits on a prepaid debit card.

Ways to Apply

You can choose from four ways to sign up for Social Security retirement benefits. Select the option that best suits your needs. Call your local Social Security office to set up an appointment to apply in person. Sign up by phone by calling 1-800-772-1213 (or-1-800-325-0778 for the deaf or hearing impaired). If you live outside the U.S. and its territories, contact the U.S. Embassy or consulate. You can apply online using the Social Security Retirement/Medicare Benefit Application, which takes between 10 and 30 minutes to complete.

Photo Credits

  • Happy Senior Couple 5 image by Brett Mulcahy from

About the Author

Diane Dilov-Schultheis has been writing professionally since 2000. She is a food and travel writer who also specializes in gaming, satellites, RV repair, gardening, finances and electronics. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has been published online at the Travel Channel and Intel.

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