Social Security retirement benefits are an insurance program. When the program began in 1935, it was designed to keep older Americans out of poverty when they were no longer able to work. Like insurance, when you want to start collecting your benefits, you file a claim. Remember that you are dealing with a huge bureaucracy, the Social Security Administration, and while it is very efficient, your claim process will be much smoother if you plan ahead and follow these steps.
- Determine the right age for you to claim your benefits. The right age for you depends on your other sources of income and financial needs. You can claim reduced benefits at age 62, even if you are still working. Full benefits are available at “full retirement age”, which is 65 if you were born in 1937 or earlier, or 67 if you were born after 1959. Between 65 and 67, the full retirement age is staggered based on the year you were born. For example, for those born in 1958, full retirement age is 66 and 8 months. You can delay your claim until age 70, resulting in a larger monthly payment.
- Decide when you will file. It takes approximately three months to receive your benefits after your application is approved. If you want to retire at age 67, then you will want to apply three months before your 67th birthday.
- Gather your documents ahead of time. The Social Security Administration expects original documents. They can direct you on how to order replacement originals if necessary. This could delay your application, so allow extra time. You’ll need your Social Security card, your birth certificate, military discharge papers, if applicable, and your most recent W-2 or, if self-employed, tax return. You’ll also need proof of citizenship if you were not born in the U.S. and proof of marriage or divorce if claiming spouse or ex-spouse benefits. If you don’t have your Social Security card, you can order a free replacement through the mail or in person at the local Social Security office using form SS-5.
- Decide how you will file. You can go to a Social Security office and apply in person. Be prepared to wait up to several hours to meet with a staff person who can help you complete the paperwork. You may request an in-person appointment or telephone application at 1-800-772-1213. The quickest and easiest way to apply is to complete the application online at www.socialsecurity.gov/retireonline.
If you have any questions, the staff at the Social Security Administration is very knowledgeable and helpful. They assist millions of Americans each year access their Social Security retirement benefits. To find your local office, request forms, or ask questions, call 1-800-772-1213. You can do all those things, plus calculate your retirement benefits online, at www.ssa.gov. Click on the tab that says “Retirement.” By being organized and patient, you should have an easy time of it, which is what retirement is all about!
About the Author
Tracy Green Mintz joins the OpenPlacement team as the Training and Resources Advisor. Tracy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (#23964), trainer and long-term care consultant based in Southern California. As a social worker, Ms. Greene Mintz believes that knowledge is power, and our elderly clients deserve all the power we can shift to them in our complicated healthcare service delivery system. She is a nationally recognized expert on the topic of Relocation Stress Syndrome in the elderly and has given workshops across the U.S. to case managers, administrators, nurses, social workers, skilled therapists and other disciplines that serve seniors. She also offers Medicare-covered one-on-one counseling to seniors in their homes.
Her trainings are popular and memorable because her common sense approach includes lots of laughter and team-building that validate the very difficult work of eldercare. “I’m not trying to change the system in as much as I am trying to help clients become more effective consumers in that system. I prefer to train direct care staff to recognize and reinforce consumer-based choices because it is in their interest to do so. Encouraging seniors to participate in their care makes everyone’s job easier, which reduces costs and leads to positive outcomes for all, including the organization. I always address the business angle because health care in the U.S. is a business and all staff should appreciate the crucial link between good customer service and good care.” Her philosophy is that best practices build the best facilities, and our seniors deserve the best. Through social service consultation and SSD training in long-term care, she focuses on quality of life for residents and substantial compliance for facilities as a mutually beneficial outcomes.
Ms. Greene Mintz has worked with seniors and their families at all levels of care, from independent living through end-of-life since 2000. She holds a master’s degree in social work and a gerontology certificate from the Institute on Aging at Portland State University in Oregon and master’s degree in film and television from UCLA. She is a proud member of the California Society for Clinical Social Work and the National Association of Social Workers, of which she has served on the CA State Board. She was recently appointed to the faculty of Boston University’s School of Social Work. Prior to becoming a geriatric social worker in, Ms. Greene Mintz worked for twelve years in the film and television industry. She likes to comment that the similarities between working in showbiz and working in mental health are staggering!