Ready to Enroll in Social Security? Here's What You Need

There are three ways to enroll in Social Security: online, by telephone or in person. The simplest way to enroll is on the Social Security website and it is relatively easy to do so.

Enrolling in Social Security by Phone

You can also call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at 1-800-772-1213 and enroll. When calling the 800 number, I strongly suggest you use their call-back service instead of holding for a person to help you. I have had a good experience with the Social Security Administration calling back within the timeframe they provide when I elected this option.

Per the SSA website: “By calling 1-800-772-1213, you can use our automated telephone services to get recorded information and conduct some business 24 hours a day. If you cannot handle your business through our automated services, you can speak to a Social Security representative between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Generally, you’ll have a shorter wait time if you call during the week after Tuesday.” (For related reading, see: Best Ways to Contact the Social Security Administration.)

Enrolling in Social Security in Person

If you choose to enroll in person, be prepared for it to take a while. You will need to register when you first enter the building and then pay attention to the numbers as they call them since they are not called in numerical order. The hours of operation for most Social Security offices are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 9:00 a.m. to noon on Wednesday. I’ve visited the Social Security office a number of times and had the shortest wait time when going on a Tuesday or Thursday around 10:30 a.m., after the first of the morning rush is over.

Since the Social Security Administration is a federal organization, you can visit any Social Security office in the United States. You do not need to limit your visit an office in your home town. To find a Social Security office near you, visit the SSA website.

Information Needed to Enroll in Social Security

In addition to your Social Security number, you will need the following information to enroll whether it's online, via the telephone or in person:

  1. Name at birth, if different than current name.
  2. Date of birth.
  3. Place of birth (city, state or foreign country).
  4. If you were in active military service before 1968, the dates of service and whether you have ever been eligible to receive a monthly benefit from a military or federal civilian agency.
  5. If currently married, your spouse's name, date of birth (or age) and Social Security number (if known).
  6. The dates and places of each of your marriages and, for marriages that have ended, how and when they ended.
  7. The names, dates of birth (or age) and Social Security numbers (if known) of any former spouses.
  8. The names of any unmarried children under 18, ages 18-19 and in secondary school, or disabled before age 22.
  9. The name(s) of your employer(s) and/or information about your self-employment and the estimated amount of your earnings for the current year, last year and upcoming year. 
  10. Especially when enrolling online, the SSA will also ask you some personal information that only you are likely to know, such as lender’s name of your last mortgage and/or car purchase, brand of car last financed, etc. Multiple-choice answers will be provided for these questions and are designed so that the SSA can authenticate you are actually the person enrolling for benefits. 
  11. If you are within three months of turning age 65 when applying for Social Security, they will also ask you if you want to enroll in Medicare Part B. Note: Enrollment in Medicare Part A is automatic when enrolling in Social Security after age 65 or within three months of turning age 65. (For related reading, see: Medicare 101: Do You Need All Four Parts?)
  12. Bank information. The SSA no longer mails checks so if you are enrolling to start receiving benefits, you will need to provide your bank account number and routing number for the account in which you want your monthly benefits deposited. 
  13. Month you want your benefits to start.

The SSA direct-deposits benefits based on the day of month you were born. The SSA payment schedule is as follows:

Day of Birth

Payment Date of SS Benefits

1st – 10th

2nd Wednesday of the month

11th – 20th

3rd Wednesday of the month

21st – 31st

4th Wednesday of the month

Once the SSA processes your benefit claim, they may ask you to supply some additional documentation. For most of the documents requested, they will need to see the original, at which time they will take a photocopy and return the original to you. You can mail in these documents or physically take them to any SSA office. If you decide to physically take them, I suggest you call (1-800-772-1213) and make an appointment with the local SSA office of your choice.

Documents you may need to provide to show you are eligible for the benefits requested include:

  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States (i.e. passport, Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship)
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for the last year (photocopy of these documents accepted by SSA)
  • Final divorce decree, if applying as a divorced spouse (For related reading, see: How Divorce Affects Social Security Benefits.)
  • Marriage certificate

Since enrolling in Social Security online is relatively easy to do, my suggestion is to start there. Then if the Social Security Administration needs additional information from you, they will send you a letter detailing the information needed, at which time you should call and make an appointment to take it in.

(For more from this author, see: How Your Income Affects Your Medicare Premium.)


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