Social Security application should be considered carefully if you’re not planning on retiring early. The very first thing you need to know before you apply for retirement benefits is your full retirement age. Remember, depending on the year you were born, your full retirement age will fall between 65 and 67. Refer to this calculator to see how old your full retirement age is.

If you’re retiring early, the earliest age you can apply for retirement benefits is 62, and you may not be younger than 61 years and 9 months old to apply. (Your benefits will kick in the month after you turn 62.)

The easiest way to apply for retirement benefits is online through the official Social Security website here. These are the documents that you will need before you start the application process, so have them handy:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • Proof of citizenship: If you are a citizen of the United States, this can either be your passport, or certificates of citizenship or naturalization. If you’re not a citizen, you will need your green card with your A-number on it.
  • U.S. military papers if you ever served in the army, the documents certifying your release or discharge from active duty.
  • Tax return from the year prior and any W2 forms

You will need the information on these documents and the application process may also require you submit these documents in their original form. Unless otherwise noted, photocopies won’t be accepted.

Once you have all the necessary documents, get started on your application. You are allowed to fill the application as you go, skipping questions you can’t answer until a later time. You can also start and stop an application, just remember to save the application periodically.

The final part of the application process requires an electronic signature. After you provide the signature and complete the process, you be asked to provide the Social Security office with any necessary documents.

Outside of applying online, you may also apply for retirement benefits at a Social Security Administration office (look for one near you here) or do it by phone.

Once you finish applying, the Social Security office will review your application and contact you if they need additional information. If they don’t and your application is okay, they will send a letter telling you their decision.

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