Richmond Times-Dispatch

SAVVY SENIOR

- BY JIMMILLER JimMiller is editor of the Savvy Senior. Send your senior questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenio­r.org.

QUESTION: With my local Social Security offices being closed due to COVID-19, what is the best way to apply for my Social Security retirement benefits?

ANSWER: Because of the pandemic, all Social Security field offices across the country have been closed since March, so you can’t just walk-in, talk to a counselor and apply for benefits in person right now. But there are other ways to claim your benefits that are much easier and quicker. Here’s what you should know.

Howto apply?

The easiest and most convenient way to apply for your Social Security benefits during the pandemic is to do it yourself online at SocialSecu­rity.gov. It usually takes around 15 minutes to complete the applicatio­n, as long as you’ve gathered all of the required informatio­n and documentat­ion (more on that below). You can also save your applicatio­n as you go, so you can take a break at any time.

If your situation is complicate­d or you’re uncomforta­ble using the internet to apply, you can have a Social Security employee assist with the process via telephone. To make an appointmen­t, call (800) 772-1213. (If you’re hearing impaired, you can call (800) 325-0778.) The phones are monitored from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. At the time of your appointmen­t, the representa­tive will call you.

If you start to complete the online applicatio­n form but find that it’s too confusing or complicate­d, call the agency and set up a phone appointmen­t.

Once you have submitted your applicatio­n, a representa­tive may contact you with updates or questions about your applicatio­n. You can also check the status of your applicatio­n by signing in to your “my Social Security” account at SSA.gov/ myaccount.

When to apply?

You should file one or two months before you want benefits to begin, but if you’re the worrying type, you can do it up to three or four months before. It takes a little time to process the paperwork, so by putting in your applicatio­n a few months early, you can fix any problems that come up without it interferin­g with your starting date.

It’s also worth noting that if you start receiving your Social

Security retirement benefits before age 65, you will automatica­lly be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B, and you’ll receive yourMedica­re card about three months before your 65th birthday. It will include instructio­ns to return it if you have work coverage that qualifies you for late enrollment.

But if you decide to delay your retirement benefits, you’ll need to sign up just for Medicare at age 65, which you can also do at SocialSecu­rity.gov or over the phone at (800) 772-1213.

Need informatio­n

In order to apply for Social Security benefits online or over the phone, you’ll need to be able to document some informatio­n about your identity and work history. So before applying, have the following informatio­n handy:

Your Social Security number.

Your birth certificat­e (original or certified).

Proof of U.S. citizenshi­p or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States.

♦ A copy of your U.S. military service papers if you had military service before 1968.

♦ A copy of your W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax return for last year.

♦ Your bank informatio­n (including your account number and the bank routing number) for where you want the direct deposit of your benefits to be sent.

For a complete checklist of what you’ll need to complete your applicatio­n, see SSA.gov/ hlp/isba/10/isba-checklist.pdf.

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