If you're an American citizen or permanent resident years from retirement age and lucky enough to be healthy and fully employed, you may not think much about Social Security. But for more than 80 years, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has provided a critical financial safety net for Americans of all ages.
Older Americans rely on monthly Social Security benefits to partially or fully fund their retirement. Disabled adults who can't work to support themselves and their families may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Social Security also provides financial support for wounded veterans, and surviving spouses and children after an untimely death. You can apply for most Social Security benefit programs online by creating a my Social Security account.
There are more than 1,200 Social Security field offices in the United States, and you can find the closet office at this Social Security website. With so many services available online, why would you need to go into the office itself? Here are a few reasons why you might need to visit a Social Security office:
1.You Didn't Get Your Newborn a Social Security Number in the Hospital
If you have a baby at most hospitals in the U.S., you will be asked there if you want to apply for a Social Security number. The hospital staff will use the same information provided for the baby's birth certificate (both parents' names and their Social Security numbers) to generate a brand new Social Security number for the new arrival.
If you decide not to get the Social Security number in the hospital, or you have the baby in a small birthing center or at home, then you will have to go to a Social Security office to get the little munchkin his or her number. Don't forget to bring the baby's birth certificate and identifications providing your identity and relationship to the child.
If you wait until the child is 12 or older to apply for a Social Security number, then the child has to appear in person for an interview at the office, even if you're signing all the paperwork.
2. You Need a Replacement Card and You Live in One of 16 States
If you lose your original Social Security card, you're allowed up to three free replacements a year and 10 over your lifetime. But not everyone can apply for a replacement card online. To apply online for a replacement card, you have to be 18 or older and you can't be requesting a name change (if you recently got married, for instance). Also, you need to provide a driver's license number from a participating state.
You cannot currently apply online for a replacement Social Security card if your driver's license was issued in one of the following states:
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
In those states, you'll have to make an appointment with your local Social Security office to get a replacement card.
3. You Want to Apply for Retirement Benefits, but Don't Speak English
If you're at least 61 years and 8 months old, you can start to collect Social Security retirement benefits. The amount of the monthly check depends on how many years you worked and the age at which you apply to collect benefits. Technically, "full" retirement age is between 66 and 67, at which point you qualify for the largest benefit.
The SSA has made it easy to apply online to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits, but only if you can read and understand English. If you can't complete the online application in English, the SSA recommends calling your local Social Security office to make an appointment with a staff member who speaks your language.
4. You're Overwhelmed by the Four Different Parts (!) of Medicare
But Medicare is anything but simple and straightforward. There are four different "flavors" of Medicare (Part A, Part B, Part C and Part D). One is free, one charges a monthly premium, one covers only prescription drugs and the other covers hospital stays. If you can make heads or tails of this baffling SSA Medicare brochure, then by all means apply online. But if you need some advice about which Medicare plans best fit your situation, you might want to apply in person at a Social Security office.
5. You Want to Apply for Survivor Benefits
When a loved one dies, widows and widowers (plus children under 18) are entitled to collect any remaining Social Security benefits of the deceased. Those are called survivors benefits. Although in most cases the widow/widower must be over 60 to collect, if they are caring for the deceased's child who is under 16 or else disabled, they can collect at any age.
The SSA does not currently allow you to either report a death or apply for survivor benefits online. The funeral home will usually report the death to the SSA, but you will need to call the SSA and make an appointment at a local Social Security office to apply for survivor benefits.