How to Apply for Social Security: the Basics
Start your application 3 months before you want to begin collecting
October 18, 2021
Ask Rusty – About the Basics of Applying for Social Security
Dear Rusty: I am planning to apply for Social Security in May of 2022 and would like to understand how to file. I will be taking it when I am 62. Signed: Ready to Retire
Dear Ready to Retire: Congratulations on your upcoming retirement! You should apply for your Social Security benefits about 3 months before you wish benefits to begin (you will tell them the month you want benefits to start when you apply). Since you plan to apply at age 62, be aware that you must be 62 for an entire month to be eligible for benefits – you cannot get benefits for the month you turn 62 (unless you were born on the 1st or 2nd of the month). Rather you become eligible the following month.
Your benefit payment date will be either the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Wednesday of the month, depending on the day of the month you were born. Born between the 1st and 10th of the month your payment will be received on the 2nd Wednesday; born between the 11th and 20th of the month, payment will be made on the 3rd Wednesday; born after the 20th of the month your payment will be received on the 4th Wednesday.
You can apply for benefits over the phone by calling Social Security at 1(800) 772-1213 (or by calling your local office) and requesting an appointment to apply. However, by far the most efficient way to apply is online at http://www.ssa.gov/applyforbenefits. Here's a link to a short video about applying online: https://www.ssa.gov/hlp/video/iclaim_r01.htm. To do the online application you will first need to create your personal "my Social Security" online account which is easy to do at http://www.ssa.gov/myaccount. When you have that online account set up, you will see your estimated benefit amounts at several ages. You'll see that if you claim at age 62 your benefit will be 30% less than it would be at your full retirement age (FRA) of 67 (a permanent reduction), and you'll also see that your benefit at age 70 would be about 75% more than your benefit at age 62.
Please also be aware that if you claim before your full retirement age and you continue to work, Social Security has a limit for how much you can earn before they take away some of your benefits. The 2022 earnings limit is not yet known, but it will be something a bit more than the 2021 limit of $18,960. If you exceed the annual limit, Social Security will take back benefits equal to $1 for every $2 you are over the limit (half of what you exceed the limit by). The earnings limit goes up by over 2.5 times in the year you reach your full retirement age and goes away entirely once FRA is attained.
Finally, your Social Security benefits may be subject to income tax if your combined income from all sources is high enough. The thresholds depend on your IRS filing status – if you file as "married/jointly" and your combined income (yours and your husband's) is more than $32,000, then 50% of your SS benefits for the tax year becomes part of your taxable income. If your combined income as a married couple is more than $44,000 then up to 85% of your SS benefits will be taxable. The thresholds are less if you file your taxes as a single – in that case income over $25,000 means 50% of your SS benefits are taxable, and income over $34,000 means up to 85% of your benefits will be taxed at whatever your normal IRS tax rate is.
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation's staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at [email protected].