Humanities › Issues How and When to Apply for Social Security Benefits Share Flipboard Email Print William Thomas Cain / Getty Images Issues The U. S. Government History & Major Milestones U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights U.S. Legal System U.S. Political System Income Tax & The IRS Defense & Security Consumer Awareness Campaigns & Elections Business & Finance U.S. Foreign Policy U.S. Liberal Politics U.S. Conservative Politics Women's Issues Civil Liberties The Middle East Terrorism Race Relations Immigration Crime & Punishment Animal Rights Canadian Government View More Table of Contents Expand Are You Eligible? How Much Can You Expect to Get? When Should You Retire? If You Work While Getting Social Security If Health Problems Force You to Retire Early Documents You Will Need Working While Collecting Social Security Retirement By Robert Longley History and Government Expert B.S., Texas A&M University Robert Longley is a U.S. government and history expert with over 30 years of experience in municipal government and urban planning. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Robert Longley Updated July 03, 2019 Applying for Social Security benefits is the easy part. You can apply online, by telephone or by walking into your local Social Security office. The hard part is deciding when to apply for your Social Security retirement benefits and rounding up all the documents you'll need when you do. Are You Eligible? Becoming eligible to get Social Security retirement requires both reaching a certain age and earning enough Social Security "credits." You earn credits by working and paying Social Security taxes. If you were born in 1929 or later, you need 40 credits (10 years of work) to qualify. If you stop working, you stop earning credits until you return to work. No matter what your age is, you cannot get Social Security retirement benefits until you have earned 40 credits. How Much Can You Expect to Get? Your Social Security retirement benefit payment is based on how much you made during your working years. The more you earned, the more you'll get when you retire. Your Social Security retirement benefit payment is also affected by the age at which you decide to retire. You can retire as early as age 62, but if you retire before your full retirement age, your benefits will be permanently reduced, based on your age. For example, if you retire at age 62, your benefit would be about 25 percent lower than what it would be if you waited until you reach full retirement age. You also need to remember that monthly premiums for Medicare Part B are usually deducted from monthly Social Security benefits. Retirement is a great time to look into the pros and cons of a private Medicare Advantage plan. According to the Social Security Administration, the average monthly benefit paid to retired workers in May 2017 was $1,367.58. When Should You Retire? Deciding when to retire is totally up to you and your family. Just keep in mind that Social Security replaces only about 40 percent of the average worker's pre-retirement income. If you can live comfortably on 40 percent of what you're making at work, problem solved, but financial experts estimate that most people will need 70-80 percent of their pre-retirement income to have a "comfortable" retirement. To draw full retirement benefits, the following Social Security Administration age rules apply: Born in 1937 or earlier - Full retirement can be drawn at age 65Born in 1938 - Full retirement can be drawn at age 65 years and 2 monthsBorn in 1939 -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 65 years and 4 monthsBorn in 1940 -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 65 years and 6 monthsBorn in 1941 -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 65 years and 8 monthsBorn in 1942 -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 65 years and 10 monthsBorn in 1943-1954 -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 66Born in 1955 - Full retirement can be drawn at age 66 and 2 monthsBorn in 1956 -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 66 and 4 monthsBorn in 1957 -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 66 and 6 monthsBorn in 1958 -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 66 and 8 monthsBorn in 1959 -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 66 and 10 monthsBorn in 1960 or later -- Full retirement can be drawn at age 67 Remember that while you can begin drawing Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, your benefits will be 25 percent less than what they will be if you wait until your full retirement age as shown above. Also keep in mind that no matter when you start drawing Social Security benefits, you must be 65 to be eligible for Medicare. For example, people who retired at their full retirement age of 67 in 2017 could get a maximum monthly benefit of $2,687, depending on their work and income history. However, the maximum benefit for persons retiring at age 62 in 2017 was only $2,153. Delayed Retirement: On the other hand, if you wait to retire beyond your full retirement age, your Social Security benefit will automatically increase by a percentage based on your year of birth. For example, if you were born in 1943 or later, Social Security will add 8 percent per year to your benefit for each year that you delay signing up for Social Security beyond your full retirement age. For example, people who waited until age 70 to retire in 2017 could get a maximum benefit of $3,538. Despite getting smaller monthly benefit payments, people who start claiming Social Security retirement benefits at age 62 often have good reasons for doing. Be sure to consider the pros and cons of applying for Social Security benefits at age 62 before doing so. If You Work While Getting Social Security Yes, you can work full or part-time while also getting Social Security retirement benefits. However, if you have not yet reached your full retirement age, and if your net income from working is higher than the annual earnings limit, your annual benefits will be reduced. Beginning in the month you reach full retirement age, Social Security will stop reducing your benefits no matter how much you earn. During any full calendar year in which you are under full retirement age, Social Security deducts $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual net income limit. The income limit changes every year. In 2017, the income limit was $16,920. If Health Problems Force You to Retire Early Sometimes health problems force people to retire early. If you cannot work because of health problems, you should consider applying for Social Security disability benefits. The amount of the disability benefit is the same as a full, unreduced retirement benefit. If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, those benefits will be converted to retirement benefits. Documents You Will Need Whether you apply online or in person, you will need the following information when you apply for your Social Security benefits: Your Social Security numberYour birth certificate, or proof of U.S. citizenshipYour W-2 forms or self-employment tax return (or both) for the last year you workedYour military discharge papers if you served in any branch of the military If you choose to have your benefits paid through direct deposit, you will also need your bank's name, your account number and your bank's routing number as shown on the bottom of your checks. Working While Collecting Social Security Retirement Many people choose or need, to keep working after claiming Social Security retirement benefits. However, if you continue work after claiming early retirement benefits your Social Security benefits may be reduced until you reach your full retirement age. If you retire at age 62, Social Security will deduct money from your retirement check if you exceed a certain amount of earned income for the calendar year. For example, the income limit in 2018 was $17,040 or $1,420 per month. The income limit increases annually. Until you reach your full retirement age, Security will reduce your benefit by $1 for every $2 you earn over the income limit. Once you reach your full retirement age, you will receive your full Social Security retirement benefit with no limitation on how much income you earn from working. The worse news is that Social Security does not apply the early retirement work penalty by simply deducting a small amount from each monthly benefit check. Instead, the agency may withhold several months’ entire checks until the total reduction is paid off. This means your annual budget will have to account for a certain number of months without a benefit check. Complete details on this decidedly complicated process can be found in Social Security’s pamphlet on “How Work Affects Your Benefits.” You can also use Social Security’s earnings test calculator to see how much your reduction will be and when your checks will be withheld. Also note that if lose your job, you may still qualify for unemployment benefits even though you are also collecting Social Security retirement benefits.