what documents needed to apply for social security retirement benefits

Documents Needed To Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits

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Applying for Social Security retirement benefits might seem like a challenging process, but a little bit of preparation goes a long way. In fact, the Social Security Administration (SSA) office now allows applicants to apply online. If you’ve already decided you’re at the right age for retirement and you want to get the process started, the application isn’t overly difficult to fill out and submit.

One of the most important things to do before applying for Social Security benefits is gathering up all the paperwork you will need. Gathering the documents needed to apply for Social Security retirement benefits before you submit your application is what will make the process simple. For example, the SSA will need to verify your birthday and the fact that you have United States citizenship, so having your original birth certificate (or a certified copy) can go a long way.

Personal Information and Documents Needed to Apply for Social Security

When you’re filling out a Social Security retirement benefits application, you’ll need to provide lots of information about yourself. We already mentioned that your birthday is part of that, but it goes far beyond that. You’ll also need to share your Social Security number, place of birth, and when you want to begin receiving benefits.

You’ll also need to share information about your spouse, including their name, date of birth, and Social Security number. The place and date of marriages, divorces, and deaths will also need to be disclosed, which marriage and divorce documents can help with. Those with children under 18, under 19 and still in school, or disabled children will also need to provide their names.


When applying for Social Security benefits, you’ll need to provide your SS number, place of birth, and when you want to begin receiving benefits.

Some of the additional information required to apply for retirement benefits include:

  • Your citizenship status
  • Your credit union or bank account number and routing transit number
  • Information about whether you’ve previously filed for Medicare, Social Security benefits, or Supplemental Security Income
  • Whether a different Social Security number has ever been used
  • For those who are close to or over the age of 65, whether you would like to apply in Medicare Part B

Required Information About Your Present and Past Employment

In addition to providing a wide range of information about yourself, you will also need to know numerous things about your employment history for your retirement benefits application. When applying, you will need to disclose who you worked for over the last two years and where those businesses are located. The amount of money that you earned over the last two years will also be required.

Other information regarding employment that is required to apply for benefits includes either a record of your earnings or a copy of your Social Security Statement. Individuals who don’t have a copy of the statement can get one online by creating an account with the SSA. Other factors that will need to be disclosed on the application include:

  • The dates you started and ended U.S. military service before 1968 if applicable
  • Whether you or your spouse have even been employed with the railroad industry
  • Whether you’ve been unable to work at any point in the last 14 months due to injuries, illnesses, or conditions and what dates work was not possible
  • Whether you have received any Social Security credits in another country under its system
  • Whether you expect to get or qualify for an annuity or pension from your employment under the Federal government or a state or local subdivision

Essential Documents Needed to Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits

Now that you have an idea of what kind of information will be needed for your application, it’s time to start getting your documents together. Some of these things might seem like common sense, while others you might not think to gather if you weren’t aware that they were needed. If you don’t have access to all of these documents, now is an excellent time to see what is missing and determine the best way to replace it.

Some of the documents you may be asked for include:

  • Your Social Security card or a record of the number
  • Proof of U.S citizenship or lawful alien status if you were born outside the country
  • An original birth certificate or a certified copy if you were born in the United States
  • A copy of your U.S. military service papers if you served before 1968
  • A copy of your self-employment tax return or W-2 forms for the previous years
  • Marriage, divorce, and death certificates for current or former spouses
  • Bank information for making deposits


Those who have already verified their age, lawful alien status, or citizenship for a Social Security or Medicare claim may not need to provide all of this proof again. After the documents have been processed, they will be returned to you unless you request an alternative.


To apply for Social Security benefits, you will typically need a certified or original copy of your birth certificate. If it’s lost, you can get a new copy from the vital records office in your birth state.

Your Birth Certificate

The SSA will ask to see your birth certificate as a way to prove you are the age you say you are. Most of the time, this can be an original certificate or a certified copy. If you have lost track of your birth certificate, there are several ways to get a new copy to complete your paperwork. You can talk to the vital records office for the state where you were born to get a new copy of the birth certificate. You will likely need to provide certain documents and information before a replacement is provided to you.


If you were born outside of the United States to parents who were U.S. citizens, the birth is typically registered at the U.S. embassy or the consulate of the country where your parents were living at the time. If this is the case, you can request a copy of the document from the U.S. Department of State.

For those who were born on a military base in another country, the process is a bit different. Most of the time, you will need to get in touch with the hospital where you were born. This is the easiest way to get a copy of your birth certificate so you can complete your application.

Proof of Citizenship

We mentioned that you’ll need to state your citizenship status in your benefits application. This is used in tandem with your age to decide whether you qualify for Social Security benefits. Those who have a United States birth certificate can use that document to prove citizenship. If this isn’t available, a United States passport can be used instead.

Regardless of what documents you use to verify citizenship, they will need to be either the original document or a copy that has been certified by the appropriate agency. Notarized copies and photocopies won’t be accepted, so you’ll need to get access to an original or certified copy to complete your application.

Social Security Card

Your birth certificate will help the SSA verify your age and that you are a U.S. citizen, but you’ll also need to share your Social Security number to acquire your retirement benefits. Those who have misplaced their Social Security card can replace it by visiting the Social Security website. Simply create an account and most states will allow you to request a new card online.

In states where you cannot request a card online, you’ll need to request in another way. This will require sharing your mailing address within the United States. You’ll also likely need to show proof of a state identification card or a driver’s license. A driver’s license is mandatory to get a new Social Security card in Delaware, Alaska, and Wisconsin.

Identification Card

To prove your identity with the SSA, there are several different documents that you can use. A state-issued non-driver identification card, a driver’s license, or a United States passport will offer verification that you are who you say you are. If you don’t have any of these documents, there are a few other options. You may be able to use an employee identification card, a military identification card, a health insurance card, or a school identification card.


You will need to prove your identity to the SSA, with either a passport, driver’s license or state-issued ID. If you don’t have these, you may be able to use other forms of ID, like a health insurance card.

Employment Records

We mentioned earlier that you’ll need to provide information about your employment to gain benefits. One of the most important documents to have for this is a copy of your W-2 forms for the year before you are applying. Self-employed individuals will need to provide a copy of their self-employment tax return from the previous year. Unlike many of the other required documents, this does not need to be an original.

Records Pertaining to Spouses

If you plan to apply for spousal benefits from the Social Security Administration, there will be specific documents that need to be submitted. You will need to show that you are married before anything else. This can often be done through the use of your birth certificate, a photo ID, and a marriage license. 

Those who have lost their marriage license can ask for a replacement to meet these requirements. Get in touch with the register of deeds in the county where your marriage took place. If you plan to apply for spousal benefits from an ex-spouse, you will need to have access to the appropriate divorce records. If these aren’t available, replacements can be provided from the county offices where the divorce occurred.

For individuals applying for Social Security survivor benefits, you will need to show a copy of your spouse’s death certificate. You will also need to provide this person’s Social Security number. If you do not have the death certificate in your possession, the vital records office in the county of the death can provide you with one.

Documentation of Military Service

If you were a part of the military before 1968, the Social Security benefits application will ask for a copy of your military service papers. These could include your certification of discharge or release from active duty. While applying for benefits, you will likely need to send a few documents from above to the SSA. Keep in mind that all of these documents, whether photocopies or original records, will be returned to you.

When to Get Started with Your Application

Keep in mind that even if you are working on getting all the documents you need for your application, you can still begin the application process. The timing of the application can have an impact on how much you receive in benefits. For example, waiting until the full retirement age to apply will allow you to receive full benefits. Filing before this age can lead to a decrease in your monthly payment amount.

If your full retirement age is 67, but you choose to receive benefits starting at 62, you could receive up to 30% less in monthly payments. Those who wait will receive larger payments and that amount will grow until you reach the age of 70. 

However, remember that starting the process to get retirement benefits doesn’t mean they will come immediately. It’s recommended that you apply for benefits no later than two months before you want to start getting payments. All SSA retirement benefits are set up to be paid for the month prior. So, someone who applies in March might start getting benefits in April but won’t be paid the amount until May.

Applying for Social Security Benefits Online

The first thing you will need to do to apply for benefits online is creating a Social Security account on the SSA website. This account has a lot of great features and can be used to track your earnings over your lifetime based on reports made to the SSA. When you have an account, you can check in and see if all the information is correct. If not, you can notify the SAA of the mistake and show past tax returns or pay stubs to correct the error.

Once you have an online account and your documents are ready, you can start your retirement benefits application online. The process is simple and most people will have no issue getting through the application alone. However, your local Social Security office can provide help if it’s needed. You can also reach out by telephone to the SSA for help if you have issues completing your application. 

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