The three major elements of your retirement portfolio are benefits from pensions, savings and investments, and Social Security benefits.

To help you plan for retirement, you may want to use our Retirement Planner to explore a variety of retirement scenarios. You can use a range of assumptions about your future earnings or when you will stop working.

The Retirement Planner tells you how to qualify for Social Security benefits. It also includes a Retirement Estimator and Benefit Calculators that help you calculate your own benefit estimates and tells you what affects your benefits.

When should you apply?

Generally, you should apply for retirement benefits three months before you want your benefits to begin.

  • If you were born before 1938 and you met all other requirements, you could receive benefits beginning with the first full month you were age 62. However, if you chose to begin receiving benefits before age 65, your benefits were reduced to account for the longer period over which you'll be paid.

  • If you were born after 1937, you also can start your Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but your full retirement age is more than 65.

    To find out what your full retirement age is, use our Retirement Age Chart.

Even if you don't plan to receive benefits right away, or decide to wait until after you reach full retirement age, you still should sign-up for Medicare three months before your 65th birthday.

Choosing the month you start to get benefits is an important decision. If you are not quite ready to retire, but are thinking about doing so in the near future, our Retirement Planner will help you prepare. If you plan to continue working after you reach age 62, it may be to your advantage to start your retirement benefits before you stop working.

How do you apply for retirement benefits or Medicare?

You can apply for retirement benefits or just Medicare online. To apply for retirement benefits and/or Medicare, just go to Apply For Social Security Benefits and follow the instructions. You can also call or visit your local Social Security office.

You can also make an appointment for your application to be taken over the telephone or in person at a convenient Social Security office.

If you're deaf or hard of hearing, call our toll-free TTY number at 1-800-325-0778, between 7 AM and 7 PM Monday through Friday.

If you currently live outside the United States, contact the nearest U.S. Social Security office, U.S. Embassy, or consulate.

What documents must you provide?

When you apply for benefits, we'll need the following:

  • Your Social Security number;
  • Your birth certificate (If you don't have a birth certificate, you can get one from the state where you were born. Go to What Documents Will You Need When You Apply? for more information.);
  • Your W-2 forms or self-employment tax return for last year;
  • Your military discharge papers if you had military service;
  • Your spouse's birth certificate and Social Security number if they are applying for benefits;
  • Children's birth certificates and Social Security numbers, if they're applying for children's benefits;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you (or a spouse or child applying for benefits) were not born in the U.S.; and
  • The name of your bank and your account number so your benefits can be directly deposited into your account.

We need original documents or copies certified by the issuing office. You can mail or bring them to a Social Security office. We'll photocopy and return your documents.

Don't delay your retirement just because you don't have all the documents we need. The representatives in your local office will help you.

What should you remember to do after you retire?

Remember to tell us whenever there's any change in your life circumstance that affects your benefits. For example, notify us if you:

You can find more information about what to do when any of these changes happen, and answers to most of your retirement questions, in our booklet, "Retirement Benefits."