social security building

Guide to Visiting a Social Security Office Near You

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In the past, many tasks like applying for Social Security benefits or a card required a trip to the local Social Security office. You might need to make an appointment, take time off work, travel to the office, and wait your turn. Today, almost all Social Security business can be handled online, from the comfort of your home. And Social Security works hard to make it easy for people to navigate their website and conduct their business, whether they do it online, on the phone, or in person.

Whether you’re taking care of something in regards to earned benefits, spousal benefits (and benefits for ex-spouses), benefits for children, survivor benefits, or just looking for information on topics like taxes and Social Security or SS cost of living adjustments, knowing your options is important to saving you time and stress.

Online vs. local office

The Social Security Administration has a list of things you can accomplish online including applying for benefits, estimating your retirement benefits, applying for a Social Security card or replacement card, appealing a decision, and even estimating what your benefits will be in the future through a retirement calculator that lets you compare different retirement dates and future earning estimates. 

In some cases, it’s still necessary to go into the Social Security field office. For example, some online applications are only available in English, so if someone needs to apply in another language, they may need to use the phone or visit the office. Also some tasks, like reporting a death in order to receive Survivor Benefits, must be done over the phone or in person, though often the funeral home will report the death to Social Security. Also, not all states offer online applications. And some states that do offer online applications restrict them to people who possess certain documents, such as a driver’s license.

Though it may turn out that your particular issue requires you to call in or pay a visit to the office, it’s a good idea to start with Social Security’s website, which can provide a lot of answers to questions and frequently let you take care of your business much faster, and more conveniently before trying other avenues.

Apply for Social Security benefits

Applying for Social Security benefits online can take as little as 15 minutes. You start by creating or signing in to your my Social Security account, then click on Apply. You’ll go through a series of screens that will ask you questions about yourself, your family, and your work. If you get stuck on a question, you can skip it and go back later. If you can’t complete your application for any reason, you can “Return to a Saved Application” later without losing the information you entered.

You may not be able to use periods, commas, and other special characters when you answer some of the questions. For example, you can’t use periods in your address. The system will walk you through the process and tell you to go back if something’s missing.

Depending on what you’re applying for—such as a replacement Social Security card or Retirement Benefits–you may need to have on hand your:

  • Social Security number
  • Birth certificate or proof of citizenship
  • Marriage or divorce records
  • U.S. military service papers
  • A copy of W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax return for the previous year
 

In many cases your local Social Security office can contact your state Bureau of Vital Statistics and verify your information online at no cost to you. If they can’t verify your information online, they can still help you get information.

Replacement Social Security card

The Social Security Agency doesn’t charge anything for issuing a card or a replacement card, but it does have certain rules that restrict who can apply online. For example, if you live in Alabama, Connecticut, Minnesota, or one of several other states, you can’t yet use the online service for getting a replacement Social Security card, though residents of those states should check regularly to see if that capability has been added, since more states are added to the service all the time. In Delaware and Wisconsin, you can only use the online service if you have a driver’s license. And in all places, you must be a citizen at least 18 years old with a U.S. mailing address.

If you are a U.S. citizen, and have not gotten a replacement Social Security card or name change recently, you may not be eligible to use the online replacement card application in my Social Security.

How many Social Security offices are located around the country

Social Security has approximately 1,230 field offices in the United States as well as 10 regional offices, six processing centers, and its central office in Baltimore. Some states have considerably more offices than others. For example, the New York Region has 100 field offices in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Texas has 70 field offices. Wyoming only has half a dozen. You can find your closest field office here.

In early 2020, Social Security office hours will expand to be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. To schedule, reschedule, or cancel an appointment, you can call 1-800-772-1213 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

What to expect when visiting in person

When you go to a Social Security Office, the documentation you bring depends on what you hope to accomplish there. Your visit may require:

  • Social Security number
  • Birth certificate or proof of citizenship
  • Address
  • Proof of household inhabitants
  • Marriage or divorce papers
  • U.S. military service papers
  • copy of W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax return for the previous year
 

If you’re going to the office for a disability hearing, you would need to know dates you’ve visited your doctors and medications you’re on. Each type of benefit has its own section on the website and can give you information about what documentation you need to bring in and whether it needs to be originals, photocopies, or digital.

More than 40 million people a year visit Social Security offices, and not everyone makes appointments. Average wait times have been clocked at about 25 minutes, though a small number of people have had to wait up to an hour. The more prepared you are for the appointment, the more you understand what you are asking for, what your rights are, and what documentation you need to support your goals, the quicker and easier the appointment is likely to be. You can collect a lot of that information online.

Best way to contact the SSA

The fastest and most convenient way to contact the SSA is via telephone. The SSA plans to add more than 1,000 employees in 2020, most of whom will provide extra service through their 800 number. But before calling, customers should seek answers to their questions and solutions to their issues online. If you can’t find the answers, the administration is ready to help. The most important thing is to contact the agency sooner, rather than later, to ensure you get the most from your benefits.

Other ways to contact SSA

You can also receive help from a Social Security representative by calling 1-800-772-1213 or by emailing the support team. Customers should not include their Social Security numbers when emailing.

Additional Resources

If you’re looking to file for Social Security and get additional information, the Social Security Administration is usually a reliable destination. However, for more nuanced information and news, other resources can be helpful. At SimplyWise, you can find information about maximizing Social Security benefits while working, the top jobs for seniors, common Social Security mistakes that may cost you money, common Social Security scams, and much more.