Applications for Social Security benefits can only be processed a maximum of four months before benefits are scheduled to begin. Thus, the earliest you can apply is age 61 and nine months, and you can expect to receive your first payment four months later – the month after your birthday. However, benefit payments come after each full month of eligibility.

For example, if you turn 62 on December 15, your first full month of eligibility is January and your payment for that month will arrive in February. If you have already reached age 62 and met all other eligibility criteria, you may begin collecting benefits in the same month you apply, though your first payment would still not arrive until the following month.

Note that receiving Social Security at age 62, the earliest age at which you can receive benefits, means that you will receive a reduced payment compared to waiting for full (aka normal) retirement age, or even longer (until age 70) to begin. 

The Process

Applying for Social Security benefits is a fairly simple process. Applications can be submitted either online, over the phone or in person at your local Social Security office. The most convenient way to apply is through the online platform found on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website. The application itself takes about ten to 30 minutes and can be saved at any point for future completion. In addition, this application can also be used to apply for Medicare.

It is generally recommended you apply three months in advance of when you would like to start receiving the checks. In order to ensure a quick and easy application process, it is best to have all the necessary information on hand before beginning. This can include, but is not necessarily limited to, the birth and marriage dates of your and your spouse, your Social Security number, proof of citizenship, tax information, employment history, military records, health insurance information and bank account information for direct deposit.

Sometimes, there are requests for documents, including original birth certificates, marriage licenses and tax returns. An agent usually contacts you if any clarification or additional documentation is needed. An agent also lets you know if you are eligible to receive more money through another person's account, such as a spouse and if anyone else is eligible to receive benefits under your account.

Once you have completed your application and supplied all requested information, you are supplied with a receipt for your records as well as a confirmation number you can use to check the status of your application online after submission. You can also follow up over the phone or in person at your local Social Security office. Depending on your situation and what documentation may be required, your application may be approved within the same month you apply.

In addition, benefit payment schedules are now dictated by date of birth. For those with birthdays between the 1st and 10th, payments will be made on the second Wednesday of every month. For those born between the 11th and 20th, payment is made on the third Wednesday. For those born between the 21st and 31st, payments are made on the fourth Wednesday.

This means that if you turn 62 on December 15th, your first payment will arrive on the third Wednesday of the following February. If your birthday is December 15th and you are already over age 62, your first payment should arrive on the third Wednesday of the month following the month in which you apply. If you're already on Social Security, or receive both Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, you may receive them on a different date.