When Should You Complete Your Retirement Application?

Q: I am thinking about starting Social Security retirement in early 2013. If I do, when should I apply? 

A: Apply now if you plan to start your Social Security in early 2013. You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits when you are at least 61 years and 9 months of age and want your benefits to start in the next three months. Social Security cannot process your application if you file for benefits more than four months in advance. See the Are you ready to apply for benefits? portion of the SSA Retirement Planner.

When to file your application depends on your plans. As long as you meet all requirements and are at least age 62 throughout the entire month, you can start Social Security retirement effective with any month of the year. You do not have to start Social Security in your birthday month. There is no rule saying you must start Social Security retirement immediately upon stopping work. You might decide to delay starting benefits in favor of waiting for a higher amount. Information and calculators at the Social Security Retirement Planner will help your planning. You have choices. What is best for you?

Accessed through the retirement section of the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov, the online retirement application is a popular option. Online applications represented just over 45 percent of all Social Security retirement applications received nationally from January through early November 2012. Applications completed online are reviewed, usually by your local office, and you are contacted if needed.

Unsure about using the online retirement application? The Retirement Planner section contains a video demonstration of the online application. Some of the website screens have changed since the video was created, but the process remains the same. Social Security publication 05-10523, How To Apply Online for Retirement Benefits, provides a quick overview of the online application. Both tell you information you will need, and questions to expect, even if you choose not to use the online application.

If not using the online application, make an appointment by calling the national Social Security toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778, between 7:00am – 7:00pm, local time. Appointments can be made for either a telephone or in-office interview. They are usually sent to local SSA offices based on zip code.