When Can You File for Social Security?

The earliest you can apply for Social Security benefits is at age 61 and nine months, and you can expect to receive your first payment four months later—the month after your birthday. Typically, Social Security benefits are paid the month after they are due, or must be specified. For example, the Social Security website states that an individual who wants their benefits to start in May will receive their first benefit check in June.

For example, if you turn 62 on Dec. 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 if you specify, though your first payment would still not arrive until the following month.

Key Takeaway

  • For Social Security income, the youngest age you can apply is 61 years and nine months old.
  • You’d then receive your first Social Security check four months later—the month after your 62nd birthday.
  • While it typically takes several weeks to process a new application, some may be approved in the same month that you apply.

Should I Wait Until Full Retirement Age to Apply for Social Security?

Receiving Social Security at age 62 (the earliest age you can receive benefits) means you will receive a reduced payment compared with waiting for full retirement age. For those born in 1960 or later, the reduction is 30%, and all reductions are permanent. If you delay taking your benefits past full retirement age, you receive an 8% increase for each full year you do so, up until you reach 70, at which point the increases stop. Every individual can calculate their own "full retirement age" based on their specific birthday, in order to consider locking in the maximum amount of Social Security benefits.

8%

The amount your monthly Social Security benefit increases for each year you delay taking benefits past full retirement age (until you reach 70, at which point the increases stop)

The Application Process

Applying for Social Security benefits is a fairly simple process. Applications can be submitted online, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security office (although those offices are open by appointment only, and only for “dire need situations,” due to the COVID-19 pandemic as of November 2020). The most convenient way to apply is through the online platform found on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website. The application itself takes about 10 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 that you apply a few 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 you and your spouse, your Social Security number, proof of citizenship, tax information, employment history, military records, and bank account information for direct deposit.

Requests for Documents

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 may also let 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 given a receipt for your records and 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.

As of November 2020, all local Social Security offices are open by appointment only, and only for “dire need situations,” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Payment Schedules

In addition, benefit payment schedules are now dictated by date of birth. For those with birthdays between the first and 10th of the month, 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 of the month. For those born between the 21st and 31st, payments are made on the fourth Wednesday.

This means that if you turn 62 on Dec. 15, your first payment will arrive on the third Wednesday of the following February. If your birthday is Dec. 15 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.