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There’s a rite of passage into retirement: starting up your retirement benefits. And for most of us that starts with Social Security and Medicare. You will need to gather information but the actual application is pretty easy to do, even online. Here are some notes from my experience on how to apply for Social Security and Medicare.
What led up to this? Click here.
Read up on Social Security rules
The Social Security website is a very good source of information on the retirement program. Click there and under Benefits, click Retirement and get reading.
You may not get some of your answers off the basic information, so play around. Look at publications, check out the FAQs, and run some estimates. It’s all free and it’s reasonably comprehensive.
You can also read up on Social Security at news sites such as Market Watch, Forbes and Bloomberg, or some of the TV news sites. They are reasonably accurate. It’s good to have a few different viewpoints to suss out the details.
If you have questions or special needs, you can call SSA at 1-800-772-1213. Bring a cold drink and a good book. They take a while but they should be able to help you find answers.
But there is a chance of error with such a complicated program. So if you do this, try a few different times and see if the answer changes. You may have to make an appointment with someone at your office to get the answers you need.
Get and use a My Social Security account
Before you go much further, get yourself a My Social Security account here. This account is going to be secure, with a little hassle about logins to keep your information secret. Open your email in a separate tab and they will send you a code to enter after you enter your ID and password.
My Social Security is where you can get your annual updates on your account. They list your earnings record; check it out and make sure it’s yours. If it looks wrong, tell them.
Your annual statement also tells you what your prospects are at your official retirement age, what your spouse can get, what you’d get for disability today, and more. It is worth doing and they won’t send these out by mail now, so get online and pay attention to it.
My Social Security will also help you get replacement Social Security cards, get proof of income letters, change your direct deposit, and more.
It’s very useful for people with benefits to be able to interact with Social Security directly online. When you need a proof of income, it can take weeks to get it by asking on the phone. Online you ask, it formulates, you print and you’re done.
Gather your facts and documents
When you do go online to apply for benefits, you will need to know your usual identifying information, your direct deposit banking information, and any information about changes in your life.
You will need to be able to give the date you want your first check. That is tied to your retirement date as well as your birthday. And you need any marriage and divorce papers to refer to, as well as the identifying information for any children you may have.
Apply for Social Security
When you know your retirement date and are within 3 months of your birthday, you can apply for Social Security retirement benefits here. They say it takes about 15 minutes for most people, and that seems about right for uncomplicated me.
When you feel that the form isn’t capturing something about you, don’t fret. There is a comments section near the end of your form where you can explain your little heart out. It may make them call you to get more explanations though. I didn’t feel that I could make myself clear just using form answers so I wrote comments. They called me up to make sure of what I meant.
Sometimes Social Security will want to see documents. If they ask you for any, either take them or mail them to the District Office. Social Security needs originals. They will copy them and then return the originals to you.
What about Medicare?
If you are applying at 65, you can add Medicare to your application automatically. Those who apply for Social Security later should apply for Medicare at 65 on the Medicare website here. You don’t want to pay more for your Part B by not applying at 65.
Read up on your Medicare rules to make sure you don’t fall afoul of some of these rules like the Part B one. They can explain how to keep your work insurance with Medicare and how to use them together. And if you happen to have a ton of money coming in, they will give you special prices on your Medicare coverage. (Hint: not nice ones.)
If you are worried about what your Part D prescription plan will look like, you can compare plans here. Plug in your prescription medications and the site will show you what kinds of costs to expect with various plans you pick for comparison. You may find that sometimes the plan with higher premiums is the one with the lowest total cost to you.
Medicare Advantage plans
That’s where they’ll also give information on Medicare Advantage plans available in your area. They can be great for people who like to have an HMO organizing their health care. The big advantage I see in them is that they also do your medications.
Why is that good? HMOs like to control your healthcare to “save money.” That means that you spending time in hospitals is not what they want. So if your doctor can convince the HMO that a medication is likely to keep you at home and cheap, the HMO is more likely to cover it. With these Advantage plans you don’t need Part D.
The big disadvantages I see are that Medicare Advantage plans don’t always cover you everywhere, just in network. If you travel, then, don’t have an accident or get sick. And there’s copays to pay with Advantage plans. But they may not cost extra in premiums.
Medicare has a bunch of private insurers providing standardized policies to cover some costs that Medicare leaves you with. They are referred to as Medigap plans. They have their own premiums and they do not do prescription coverage. You still need Part D for that.
To compare packages available in your area, go here and enter your Zip code. The website will generate a list of companies and plans for you to compare. Follow the links of the offers you like to check prices and availability of the plan you’re interested in.
And now we wait…
It’s been two weeks since I applied and about one week since I talked to the SSA representative about what my comments were about. The nice man there gave me a quote on what my check would be over the phone, but I have another 2 weeks or so to wait for my official award notice.
And that’s how I did it, with notes for people with differing circumstances. I think that researching this stuff makes a difference. Follow some links and see what you can find out that fits your life. And don’t forget you can comment below.