To apply for Social Security online, you want to have all the information you need at your fingertips before you log into your account.
So what information is that, and what steps must you take?
First, you’ll need to log in or create an account at mySocialSecurity. To create an account, the Social Security Administration will ask you a series of questions for verification. Among other things, you should have the following ready: your mobile phone, a credit card, a W-2, and your tax forms.
Once you have a mySocialSecurity account, you can then begin applying for your retirement and spousal benefits. You’ll need:
Date and place of birth: If you were born outside the U.S. or its territories, you’ll need the name of your birth country at the time of your birth and, if you’re not a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident card number.
Marriage and divorce: You’ll need the name of your current spouse; the name of your prior spouse(s) if the marriage lasted more than 10 years or ended in death; your spouse’s date of birth and Social Security number; the beginning and end dates of your marriage(s); and the place of marriage(s), state (or country if you were married outside the U.S.).
Information about your former husband or wife is usually tricky for people, says Jim Blankenship, a certified financial planner with Blankenship Financial Planning and author of “A Social Security Owner’s Manual.”
“Getting the information about the former spouse, especially the Social Security number, can be hard to find,” says Blankenship. “Most are able to provide the other details and are thus able to proceed to get the information or benefit that they’re looking for.”
Make sure to get your spouse’s Social Security number if you’re divorcing.
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Other experts note that people generally tend to overlook divorced-spouse benefits.
“Many people don’t know you may be able to get Social Security based on a prior spouse’s earnings record, says Elaine Floyd, a certified financial planner and director of retirement and life planning at Horsesmouth.
What’s more, Floyd says, many people think claiming such a benefit somehow takes away from the former spouse’s own benefit or they don’t want to have anything to do with their former spouse.
”These are all especially true if the divorce happened long ago, in another lifetime,” says Floyd.
Lately, Floyd has been advising divorced people who were married over 10 years to keep tabs on their exes “because they’re going to start dying off.”
A person, she says, may not be entitled to a divorced-spouse benefit if their own benefit is more than half the ex-spouse’s, but they may be entitled to a divorced-spouse survivor benefit. “The survivor benefit is generally the amount the ex-spouse was receiving at the time of his/her death,” says Floyd. “If the divorced person’s own benefit is less than this, she/he can switch. But if people aren’t aware of the ex-spouse’s passing, they won’t know to claim the benefit.”
One other often missed item for divorced spouses: Those with multiple marriages that lasted 10+ years can all be considered for Social Security benefits. “So, cherry-pick the highest benefit,” says Heather Schreiber, the owner and founder of HLS Retirement Consulting.
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Children: Make sure you have the names and dates of birth of children who became disabled prior to age 22, or are under age 18 and are unmarried, or are aged 18 to 19 and still attending secondary school full time.
U.S. military service: If you served in the military, be sure you know the type of duty and branch and service period dates.
Employer details for the current year and prior two years: View your Social Security statement online. Also, make sure you know your employer’s name and employment start and end dates. If you’re self-employed, besides viewing your Social Security statement online, know your business type and total net income for the current year and the prior two years.
Direct deposit: If you want your Social Security benefit deposited directly into your domestic bank account, you’ll need your account type and number and bank routing number.
Common oversights: According to Schreiber, there are many items that would-be Social Security beneficiaries overlook when applying for benefits online. Those include:
- Not realizing an individual born prior to Jan. 2 1954 is eligible to collect spousal or ex-spousal benefits, if applicable, while holding out for a larger retirement benefit.
- The ability to leverage retirement and survivor benefits to maximize income.
- Not considering the impact the claiming age of the higher wage earner has on the lower-earning survivor spouse.
- Confusion between the earnings limitation and taxation of benefits.
Robert Powell is the editor of TheStreet’s Retirement Daily (www.thestreet.com/retirement-daily) and contributes regularly to USA TODAY. Got questions about money? Email Bob at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Social Security: Information you’ll need when you apply for benefits