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documents needed to apply for social security retirement benefits

Applying for your Social Security benefits is less of a daunting process than it may seem, especially since the Social Security Administration (SSA) allows you to apply online. Once you’ve determined the best age to apply for your situation, the actual application is fairly straightforward. The SSA will need a few documents and some supplementary information from you in order to begin sending you your benefits. Let’s go through all the necessary documents you’ll need to have.

If you need help setting and reaching retirement goals, consider working with a financial advisor to help you build a smart retirement plan. 

Documents You’ll Need

When it’s time to apply for your Social Security benefits, you’ll need to have the following documents in hand:

  • Your Social Security card
  • Your original birth certificate, or a certified copy
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status
  • Military service papers, if applicable
  • Your W-2 form from the last year

If you can’t access any of these documents for one reason or another, don’t hold off on applying. Your local Social Security office can help you obtain certified copies or equivalent information, or you can submit them later on in the process. Delaying signing up for benefits could result in you losing benefits.

Note that the SSA can accept photocopies of some of these documents, such as your W-2 and tax returns. However, you’ll need to submit the original of other forms, such as your birth certificate.

Other Information You’ll Need

documents needed to apply for social security retirement benefits

If you’re married, you’ll also need to provide your spouse’s name, Social Security number (SSN), date of birth and age. You’ll also need to have the date and place of marriage, and this goes for any former spouses as well. For logistical purposes, you’ll want to indicate what month you want your benefits to begin, and you’ll need to provide your bank’s routing number and your account number.

As part of your application, you can also indicate if you would like to enroll in Medicare Part B, but you’ll have to be eligible.

You should also note in your application if:

  • You have any unmarried children under the age of 18 or disabled children under the age of 22.
  • You or someone else has ever filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare or Supplemental Security Income on your behalf
  • You’ve ever used a different SSN

Work Information You’ll Need

What you do (or did) for a living may have an impact on your benefits, so you’ll need to supply the SSA with some employment information as well. This includes the name and address of your employer for both this year and last year.

You’ll also need to know how much money you earned this year, last year and potentially next year. You’ll need an estimate of next year’s income if you’re applying in September, October, November or December.

Similar to the above section, you should also indicate on your application if any of these conditions apply to you:

  • You’ve been unable to work because of injury, illness or another condition at any point within the past 14 months.
  • You’ve qualified for a pension or an annuity from a federal or state government employer.
  • You or your spouse have ever worked for the railroad industry in any capacity
  • You’ve earned any Social Security credit under the social security system of another country

Bottom Line

documents needed to apply for social security retirement benefits

Most of the documents and information you’ll need for your Social Security application should be easy enough to get your hands on. If you have trouble doing so, your best bet is to visit your local Social Security office and start your application anyway. Odds are, the SSA will be able to help you track down any documents or information you don’t have. For instance, you can use Form SS-5 to order a new Social Security card.

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary info and documents, you should have no problem with your application. Then you’ll be well on your way to supplementing your retirement savings with Social Security benefits.

Tips For a Successful Retirement

  • Saving for retirement requires a strong financial plan and smart investing. A financial advisor help you on both fronts. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors in your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Don’t forget to include Social Security payments in your retirement plans. They may not have a titanic impact on your finances in retirement, but they can line your pockets with some extra cash when you might need it. SmartAsset’s Social Security calculator can help you get an idea of your future benefits.
  • If you are thinking about where to retire, SmartAsset’s retirement tax-friendliness tool can help you figure out how your Social Security benefits, property taxes, and retirement account and pension withdrawals will be taxed in each state.

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Hunter Kuffel, CEPF® Hunter Kuffel is a personal finance writer with expertise in savings, retirement and investing. Hunter is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame and currently lives in New York City.
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