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Aug 26, 2020
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Are you ready to apply for Social Security benefits? Have you made your retirement plan, run the different scenarios, and decided that now's the time? Unfortunately, Social Security offices are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, so you can't just walk in and discuss it with a counselor. There are, however, several other ways to claim your benefits, and they're much simpler than walking into an office.

Luckily, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is performing all services via telephone or online. It's easiest to do it online, but if you're having difficulty navigating the website, you can make an appointment with a Social Security representative for a telephone consultation. Here are five steps to guide you through the process.

Step 1: Do an information review
First, sign up for an account and review your latest Social Security statement. That will let you know the amount of benefit you're eligible for. Review your earnings history to make sure everything is accurate. This is important, because your benefit amount is based on how much you've earned over your lifetime. If that information is wrong, you may not get the full amount you're entitled to.

Step 2: Gather your documents
When you're applying for benefits, you generally need the following documents:

Your birth certificate
Proof of your U.S. citizenship
A copy of your U.S. military service paper(s) if you served in the military before 1968
A copy of your W-2 form(s) and/or your tax return for last year if you were self-employed
Your Social Security card

They also may request the following information, so make sure you have it:

Your date and place of birth
Your spouse's name, birth date, and Social Security number and information about your former spouses. They may even ask for the date and location at which you got married, and the dates of any divorce or death.
The names of your children
If you've previously applied for Social Security benefits, Medicare, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
This is the pandemic era, however, so you can't go into the SSA office with your documents. If you file online or via telephone, you'll only need the information on these documents. If you call, make sure you have this information in one spot so you can easily give them to your representative.

Step 3: Decide if you want to file online or over the telephone
The easiest way to apply for benefits is to use the online application process. According to the Social Security website: "(A)pplying for Retirement/Medicare may take between 10 to 30 minutes to complete depending on your situation. You can save your application as you go, so you can take a break at any time."
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