If you’ve ever had the chore of going to your closest Social Security office for, say, a name change or a replacement for your ancient (and MIA) Social Security card. . . well, I’m so sorry. The wait was likely interminable and the experience uncomfortable; at least it was for me.
In pre-internet days, you had no choice but to physically go to a Social Security office for many tasks. These days, you can manage your own Social Security profile and execute many critical moves yourself online. (Note: During the COVID-19 emergency, Social Security offices nationwide are staffed but are mostly closed for face-to-face services. They are offering limited in-person meetings but these are being reserved for critical situations. Call your local office -- they’re typically staffed until 4 p.m. weekdays -- if you need help.)
Whether you’re a pre-retiree on the cusp of claiming your hard-earned Social Security benefits or a young worker decades away from retirement, you should set up a free MySocialSecurity account. It’s a good way to protect against Social Security fraud, and it’s a prerequisite for many of the items on our list here.
Once you’ve set up your MySocialSecurity account, take charge of your Social Security benefits by reviewing your earnings history, calculating your benefits, ultimately filing for Social Security and Medicare, and much more. Let us show you how.
Request a Replacement Social Security Card
If you’re just looking for a replacement Social Security card, there’s no need to trek to a Social Security office and wait, and wait, and wait. You can do it online. The replacement card should arrive within two weeks.
The Social Security Administration is still rolling out this service, and you cannot request a replacement Social Security card online if you live in Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma or West Virginia. If you live in one of those states, you can apply with a mail-in application or in person when the offices finally fully reopen. You can find the office closet to you here.
Request a Replacement Medicare Card
Can’t locate your red, white, and blue Medicare card? You can request a replacement card through the Social Security website. Sign in to your MySocialSecurity account, hit the “Replacement Documents” tab, then tap “Mail My Replacement Medicare Card.” You should receive it in approximately 30 days.
Estimate Your Social Security Benefits
Hey, you’ve been paying into Social Security for years. It’s only fair to want to know how much you’ll have coming your way when you apply for the benefits.
With your MySocialSecurity online account, you can quickly access and review your Social Security statement that the SSA otherwise mails once a year. (Here’s a PDF of what a Social Security statement looks like). Whatever your age, it’s good to keep up with your Social Security benefits projections -- for claiming at 62 when you are first eligible to take Social Security (40% of Americans do so at this age), at “full retirement age” (66 or 67, depending on what year you were born), and at age 70 (the age at which benefits cease to increase.
Review Your Earnings History
Take a fun stroll down memory lane by looking at exactly how much money you earned each year since you turned 18.
But the fun can stop if you spot an error in your earnings history. If the SSA doesn’t have that record correct, you could be shorted in benefits (and that’s one of the reasons your earnings history is available). Check it out, and if you see something’s wrong, report it to the Social Security Administration. There’s a link to contact them about errors. See our article How to Fix Your Social Security Earnings Record for more.
Apply for Social Security Benefits
You're of age, and you’ve picked your retirement date. Now, it’s time to apply for the Social Security benefits you’ve earned. You no longer need to drive to a Social Security office or make an appointment with a representative. You can apply online to start receiving your retirement benefits. The online process takes all of 15 minutes, according to the SSA. If there are questions about your application, you will be contacted by the SSA by phone or through the mail.
Apply for Social Security Disability Payments
If you have a medical condition that leaves you unable to work for at least a year, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
Apply for Medicare Benefits
Turning 65 soon? Take advantage of the Social Security website to enroll in Medicare parts A and B. Note that your initial enrollment period starts three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after your birthday month. Medicare Part A is hospital insurance, and Medicare Part B is Medicare Part B is medical insurance, which you pay for (and can turn down). The Social Security website answers a ton of questions about Medicare options and offers you plenty of links.
Check the Status of Your Social Security Application
Have you already applied for Social Security benefits? You can check the status of your Social Security benefits application online, rather than trucking to your nearest Social Security office or trying to raise somebody on the phone.
Within your My Social Security account, you’ll be able to see your re-entry number for an online benefit application or appeal that has not been submitted; the date the SSA received your application or appeal; your scheduled hearing date and time; the location where your current claim or appeal is being processed; and if a decision has been made.
Appeal a Social Security Decision
What? You were denied Social Security benefits when you applied? You can appeal that negative decision online. You have up to 60 days after you hear about that denial to file an appeal (the reasons for the denial will be in that letter). You have several recourse options: You can request a reconsideration; you can ask for a hearing by an administrative law judge; you can seek a review by the SSA’s Appeals Council; or you can seek a federal court review.
For more, see our article Appeal a Decision by Social Security.
Change Your Address and Telephone Number
If you’ve bounced around a time or two in your career, make sure the Social Security Administration knows where to find you. You can update your contact information online via your MySocialSecurity account. Log in, click “My Profile,” then click the “Update Contact Information” button, and make and submit your changes. Simple.
Set Up or Change Direct Deposit
New Social Security beneficiaries (since 2013) must receive their benefits electronically. Older beneficiaries can switch to direct deposit at any time.
It’s easy to set up or change your direct deposit of Social Security benefits online if you have a MySocialSecurity account.
Print Proof of Social Security Benefits
Before you go off and print your proof of benefits -- online, people, you don’t have to head to an SSA office -- you’ll first probably want to know what Social Security Benefit Verification Letter is. Kinda self-explanatory, this, but here goes: Also known as a benefits letter or Social Security award letter, this document serves as proof of your retirement benefits. It includes your name, date of birth and the Social Security benefits you are receiving. To print it you’ve got to access it and to access it you need (everyone, say it with me) a My Social Security account. Easy peasy.
Print Your 1099
At tax time, you need your documents -- and early-bird files may not want to wait for their Form 1099 for any Social Security benefits received in the previous year to arrive in the mail. You can print that Form 1099 from your MySocialSecurity account.
Get Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Social Security
Do you have a burning question about Social Security benefits, whether offices are open, how to replace a Social Security card for one of your children or some such? Head over to the Social Security website, and tap the FAQs. They have answers.
Bob was Senior Editor at Kiplinger.com for seven years and is now a contributor to the website. He has more than 40 years of experience in online, print and visual journalism. Bob has worked as an award-winning writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., market as well as at news organizations in New York, Michigan and California. Bob joined Kiplinger in 2016, bringing a wealth of expertise covering retail, entertainment, and money-saving trends and topics. He was one of the first journalists at a daily news organization to aggressively cover retail as a specialty and has been lauded in the retail industry for his expertise. Bob has also been an adjunct and associate professor of print, online and visual journalism at Syracuse University and Ithaca College. He has a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Hope College.
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