Social Security benefits are an important entitlement for older Americans. However, applying for them can be a complex and time-consuming process. This guide provides the information you need to help your aging parents apply for Social Security benefits.
Eligibility for Social Security benefits
In order to ensure that your aging parents receive their benefits immediately, they should apply for social security benefits four months before the date they qualify. As of 2011, early retirement can begin at age 62. If your parent was born before 1938, full retirement age is 65. However, the full retirement age is moving up for those born after 1938. Be sure to check with the Social Security Administration as to your parents’ full retirement age based on their birth dates. For example, baby boomers born between 1943 and 1954 will not reach full retirement age until they are 66 years old. Your parents can apply for Social Security benefits in person or online.
Applying for benefits in person
The traditional way to apply for Social Security benefits is by visiting a local Social Security Office. There are 1,300 offices nationwide and you can call 1.800.772.1213 to find the one nearest you. Here’s what your parents need to bring with them if they apply at a local office:
- Social Security card
- Birth certificate
- Proof of U.S. citizenship
- Spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security number (if applying for benefits based on a spouse’s record)
- Marriage certificate
- Military discharge papers (if they served in the military)
- W-3 form from last year or the latest tax return
If your parents have access to the Internet, they can apply by going to the Social Security Administration’s excellent website at ssa.gov
. The application service isn’t available 24/7, but close to it. The hours are listed on the retirement benefits application page. However, you don’t have to complete the application all in one sitting, so if you need a break, you can stop working on the application and restart it again without losing any of the information you entered.
Your parents can sign the application by selecting the “Sign Now” button, and in most cases, once the application is submitted electronically, you’re done. Social Security will contact you if any further information is needed.
The website lists what you’ll need to know before you help your parents apply online:
- Have your parents’ bank account number and bank direct routing number on hand, as you must agree to direct deposits. This is a good idea anyway, for security purposes.
- Obtain records of your parents’ earnings for the past and current year.
- Be prepared with other basic data, such as all possible last names used, Social Security number and date of birth.
In addition to enabling online applications, the Social Security Administration website can answer just about any question on Social Security and benefits. Your mom will also find a Women’s Page
filled with financial tips and benefits advice for women of all ages.
The site offers many other online services, making it easy for your parents to replace lost Social Security or Medicare cards, confirm full retirement age based upon birth date, and obtain a Social Security statement that details all contributions throughout their working lives and what they can expect to receive upon retirement at different ages. Your parents can even email questions and add their names to a list to be sent the latest rules on a topic of their choice.
The bottom line
- Applying for Social Security benefits can be complex and time-consuming, so you should apply four months in advance and be prepared with the information you’ll need throughout the process.
- You can apply for Social Security benefits in person; call 1.800.772.1213 to find the Social Security office nearest you.
- The Social Security Administration website allows you to apply for benefits online, as well as offers a number of valuable resources regarding retirement and Social Security benefits.