Five ways to apply for Social Security benefits online | Columnists

Buchheit Betsy


We continue to make it easier for you to access our programs and benefits.  Our website offers a convenient way to apply for benefits online.  

You can apply online for:

  • Retirement or Spouse’s Benefits – You must be at least 61 years and 9 months in age and want your benefits to start in no more than four months.  Apply at

  • DisabilityBenefits – You can use our online application, available at,to apply for disability benefits if you:

  • Are age 18 or older;

  • Are not currently receiving benefits on your own Social Security record;

  • Are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death; and

  • Have not been denied disability benefits in the last 60 days.  If your application was recently denied, our online appeal application, is a starting point to request a review of the determination we made.  Please visit

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) –  SSI is a federal income program funded by general tax revenues, and helps people who have little or no income and who are age 65 or older, blind, or have disabilities.  If you meet certain requirements, you may apply online at   If you are not able to apply online, call your local Social Security office to apply. 

  • Medicare – Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people age 65 or older, some people younger than 65 who have disabilities, and people with end-stage renal disease.  If you are not already receiving Social Security benefits, you should apply for Medicare three months before turning age 65 at

  • Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Costs –People who need assistance with the cost of medications can apply for Extra Help at



Do you think you may be ready to retire and want to apply for Social Security benefits?  We’re here to help you make an informed decision about when to apply for benefits based on your individual and family circumstances.  

Would it be better for you to start getting benefits early with a smaller monthly amount over a longer period? Or perhaps wait for a larger monthly payment over less time?  The answer is personal and depends on several factors, such as your current and anticipated cash needs, your health, and your family history on longevity. You should consider other sources of retirement income including any plans you may have to work in retirement. Most importantly, you should study your future financial needs and obligations, and estimate your future Social Security benefit.  

The easiest way to estimate your future Social Security benefits is with a personal my Social Security account. You can create your free account at With your account you can see how much you might receive each month based on the age you want to start receiving benefits.

We encourage you to weigh all the factors carefully before making the crucial decision about when to begin receiving Social Security benefits.  This decision affects the monthly benefit amount you will receive for the rest of your life, and may affect benefits for your survivors. 

Social Security’s Retirement Portal

Whether you’re ready to learn about, apply for, or manage your retirement benefits, our retirement portal makes it easy for you to find the information you need. How easy? You can do it from your computer, tablet, and even smartphone! 

 In our retirement portal, you can:   

  • Get our Retirement publications.

  • Estimate your benefits with one of our many calculators.

  • Find your Full Retirement Age.

  • Learn about retirement benefits for a spouse and family members.

You and your loved ones can discover all of these resources at


Our online learning resources for educators are great for teaching people about Social Security!  Chances are a student will know someone who receives retirement or disability benefits.  This could be a way to relate our many programs to a new audience, and show them that our programs help people other than retirees.  Understanding how Social Security helps wounded warriors, and children and adults with disabilities can lead to greater empathy and provide a path to inspired learning.

We offer an educator’s toolkit to engage students and educate them about our programs.  Use the toolkit to create your own lesson plan!  The toolkit includes:

  • Lesson plans with objectives.

  • Infographics and handouts for each lesson plan.

  • Links to Social Security web pages.

  • Talking points.

  • Quiz questions and answers.

You can access the toolkit at

As your child’s first educator, you can use our toolkit to introduce your child or grandchild to the importance of Social Security programs. 

We value and welcome the efforts of teachers to educate America’s young people.  We want to help spark discussions with students about the benefits Social Security provides to millions of people.  Please share our toolkit with your favorite educators today.


One day in 1939, Ida May Fuller stopped by the local Social Security office in her hometown of Rutland, Vermont, to inquire about Social Security benefits.  She knew she had been paying into Social Security, and wanted to learn more.  The following year, she received the very first Social Security benefit payment — $22.54 — arriving as check number 00-000-001.  Ida’s story still holds lessons for women today — and it started with her getting the information she needed. 

Today, signing up for a personal my Social Security account at can help you get information tailored for you to plan for your retirement. It’s never too late to start planning. Ida was 65 years old when she started receiving benefit payments, but she lived well beyond her life expectancy of 65 years, 4 months. In fact, Ida lived to be 100 years old, and received Social Security benefit payments for 35 years. 

It’s important to create your personal my Social Security account as soon as possible. With your account, you can view estimates of future benefits, verify your earnings, and view the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid. Verifying earnings is important because your future benefit is based on your earnings history.

Your Social Security benefit payments will provide only a portion of your pre-retirement income.  You may have to save more to have adequate income for your desired lifestyle in retirement.

Savings need to be an active part of your plan to take care of yourself and your family’s financial future. Ida never married. She supported herself. However, you may find yourself widowed or divorced — and having to provide for yourself for several more years. Unlike in Ida’s day, you can go online to see if you’re eligible at to receive a current, deceased, or former spouse’s benefits.  It might make financial sense to claim those benefits instead of your own — since the payments could be higher based on the individual’s own earnings history.

We encourage you to follow Ida’s example and plan for your financial future. Please share this information with your friends and family — and help us spread the word on social media.



Knowledge is power and having the right tools to fight fraud can make a huge difference.  Knowledge can also help those you love and want to protect. We put together a list of the five most important resources about Social Security scams you should know about:

Please share these resources about scams with your friends and family — and help us spread the word on social media.



Question: My child, who gets Social Security, will be attending his last year of high school in the fall. He turns 19 in a few months. Do I need to fill out a form for his benefits to continue?

Answer: Yes. You should receive a form, SSA-1372-BK, in the mail about three months before your son’s birthday. Your son needs to complete the form and take it to his school’s office for certification. Then, you need to return page two and the certified page three back to Social Security for processing. If you can’t find the form we mailed to you, you can find it online at:  

Question: My spouse died recently and my neighbor said my children and I might be eligible for survivors benefits. Don’t I have to be retirement age to receive benefits?

Answer: No. As a survivor, you can receive benefits at any age if you are caring for a child who is receiving Social Security benefits and who is under age 16. Your children are eligible for survivors benefits through Social Security up to age 19 if they are unmarried and attending elementary or secondary school full time. Keep in mind that you are still subject to the annual earnings limit if you are working. If you are not caring for minor children, you would need to wait until age 60 (age 50 if disabled) to collect survivors benefits. For more information about survivors benefits, read our publication Survivors Benefits at


Question: Why doesn’t my estimate using the Retirement Estimator take into account my work as a teacher? I’ve worked for 20 years in public school systems and thought it would count.  

Answer: If you work for a state or local government agency — including a school system, college, or university — your earnings may not be covered by Social Security. If you are covered only by your state or local pension plan and you don’t pay Social Security taxes, your earnings won’t be shown on your Social Security record. (Your record will show your Medicare wages if you pay into that program.)For information on how your pension from non-covered state or local employment may affect the amount of your Social Security benefit, visit

Question: I’m retired and the only income I have is a monthly withdrawal from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Are the IRA withdrawals considered “earnings?” Could they reduce my monthly Social Security benefits?

Answer:  No. We count only the wages you earn from a job or your net profit if you’re self-employed. Non-work income such as pensions, annuities, investment income, interest, capital gains, and other government benefits are not counted and will not affect your Social Security benefits. For more information, visit or call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). 


Question: Will my Social Security disability benefit increase if my condition gets worse or I develop additional health problems? 

Answer: No. We do not base your Social Security benefit amount on the severity of your disability. The amount you are paid is based on your average lifetime earnings before your disability began. If you go back to work after getting disability benefits, you may be able to get a higher benefit based on those earnings. In addition, we have incentives that allow you to work temporarily without losing your disability benefits. For more information about disability benefits, read our publications Disability Benefits and Working While Disabled — How We Can Help. Both are available online at

Question: Will my disability benefits be reduced if I get workers’ compensation or other public disability benefits?

Answer:If you get either workers’ compensation or public disability benefit payments, we may reduce Social Security benefits for you and your family.


Public disability benefit payments paid under a federal, state, or local government law may affect your Social Security benefit. This includes civil service disability benefits, temporary state disability benefits, and state or local government retirement benefits based on disability. Disability payments from private sources, such as a private pension or insurance benefits, don’t affect your Social Security disability benefits. However, in some cases, private disability insurers may require you to apply for Social Security disability benefits before they pay you. You may want to check to find out about your private insurer’s policy.


We reduce the Social Security disability benefits you and your family get if the combined total amount, plus your workers’ compensation payment, plus any public disability payment you get, exceeds 80 percent of your average earnings before you became injured or ill. 


See the publication What You Need To Know When You Get Social Security Disability Benefits at for more information.

Supplemental Security Income

Question: I’m on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and live with my two brothers in an apartment. My SSI payment is cut by one-third because the Social Security office says I don’t pay enough of the household expenses. How much of the expenses must I pay in order to get the full SSI rate?

Answer: Under the rules of the program, you must be paying an equal share of the expenses. Because there are three of you in the household, you must pay one-third of the expenses. If you are not paying an equal share of the rent, utilities, groceries, and other household expenses, your SSI payment must be reduced. To learn more, visit

Question: What is the purpose of Supplemental Security Income, or SSI?

Answer: The purpose of SSI is to help aged, blind, and disabled people who have little income and few resources to support themselves. It provides financial assistance to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. You can receive SSI even if you have not worked and paid into Social Security. SSI is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). Find out more at


Question: What can I do if my Medicare prescription drug plan says it won’t pay for a drug that my doctor prescribed for me?

Answer: If your Medicare prescription drug plan decides that it won’t pay for a prescription drug, it must tell you in writing why the drug isn’t covered in a letter called a “Notice of Denial of Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage.” Read the notice carefully because it will explain how to ask for an appeal. Your prescribing doctor can ask your Medicare drug plan for an expedited redetermination (first level appeal) for you, if the doctor tells the plan that waiting for a standard appeal decision may seriously harm your health. For more information, visit

Question: I applied for Medicare benefits last week. How can I check the status of my application?

Answer: You can check the application status online with your personal my Social Security account at, but you must wait five days from the date you originally filed. If you are unable to check your status online, call us at 1-800-772-1213(TTY1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Betsy Buchheit is Social Security district manager in Alton.