Applying for Social Security is an important part of planning for your retirement life. To receive retirement benefits from Social Security, you need to complete the application and provide the correct documentation.

What documents do I need to apply for Social Security?

It helps to be prepared in advance with the necessary documents for your Social Security retirement benefits application. This way you have plenty of time to acquire anything that you may be missing. Some of the documents requested are specific to certain circumstances and do not apply to everyone seeking Social Security benefits.

1. Social Security card 

To apply for benefits, you’ll need to provide your Social Security card or a record with your Social Security number on it. This will need to be official as the agency does not accept photocopies as sufficient for the application.  

2. Birth certificate 

Another vital document that all applicants have to provide to receive Social Security retirement benefits is a birth certificate. There are a few options here that are accepted by the agency for the application. These include: 

  • Your original birth certificate; 
  • A copy of your birth certificate certified by the issuing agency. This must be an official certified copy. A photocopy will not do; 
  • Other proof of your age.  

Other official documents that are accepted to prove your age include: 

  • School records; 
  • State census record; 
  • Vaccination records; 
  • Insurance policy; 
  • Hospital admissions record. 

Any of these documents are suitable replacements for “proof of age” if you do not have your original birth certificate or a certified copy from the issuing agency.  

3. Proof of U.S. citizenship 

If you were not born in the United States, you will have to provide proof of your citizenship. If you were born in the United States, you likely will not need this documentation. Acceptable documents include: 

  • U.S. Consular Report Of Birth; 
  • U.S. passport; 
  • Certificate of Naturalization; 
  • Certificate of Citizenship. 

These documents must be original and not photocopies. Certificate copies from the issuing agency are also accepted. Documents can not be expired or they will not be accepted for the retirement benefits application.  

4. Military documents 

For those who served in the military before 1968, you will need to provide a copy of your service records. Photocopies are acceptable for military documents. If you did not serve in the military or served after 1968, you do not need to provide this type of documentation for the application. 

If you did not serve in the military or served after 1968, you do not need to provide military documentation. 

5. Tax information 

In addition to the above documentation, you will also need to provide tax information for your Social Security retirement benefits application. Copies of your W-2 or self-employment tax return are acceptable documentation in this case.  

What if I don’t have the documents I need? 

If you do not have the documents you need to apply for Social Security, you will need to contact the issuing agencies for each document you are missing. This means contacting the hospital where you were born for a certified copy of your birth certificate or your local Social Security office to request a replacement card. For other documentation, you may have to find the corresponding issuing agency to ensure you receive a certified copy of the document you need so it is accepted as part of your application.  

Once your application is completed, all your documentation will be returned to you. You also will not have to provide certain documentation if you have already enrolled in Medicare coverage or filed a previous Social Security claim. This applies specifically to proof of age and citizenship status as the agency will already have this information on file.  

Conclusion: what do I need to apply for retirement benefits? 

To successfully apply for Social Security retirement benefits, you’ll need to provide proof of your age, proof of your U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status, your Social Security card, and tax information. You may also need to provide proof of your military service if you served before 1968.