How to Find Online Help with Social Security

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2015 AARP

The Social Security Administration website holds a vast amount of information about benefits and rules that may affect you. The website is far from perfect — much of the information is highly general, whereas your questions and issues may be highly specific. Still, there’s a good chance that by investing a few minutes, you’ll find out something useful about your issue and your benefits, which could focus your thinking when you contact the SSA.

By going online, you can do the following:

  • Apply for retirement and other benefits. The SSA website provides direct links to begin applying for retirement, disability, survivor, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. You also can apply for Medicare and special aid for the cost of Medicare prescription drugs (for low‐income people).

  • Set up a personal account with Social Security. People who get benefits can use the account to check earnings records, change personal contact info, change direct deposit info, and get a benefit verification letter. Those not yet receiving benefits can use their account to get an estimate of future benefits and look at their earnings record.

  • Check on the status of your retirement application. Just click the “Application Status” link. You’ll be asked for your Social Security number and the confirmation number you received when you applied for benefits.

  • Download forms. Click the “Forms” link for various forms and applications.

    The SSA will accept forms you print out only if they meet certain standards. Forms you submit must be on 8½ ‐x‐11‐inch white paper, and printed with blue or black ink.

  • Get a rough idea of your benefit amounts. The Social Security calculators are a great resource. In addition, you can use an array of other tools designed to help you consider issues that could affect your benefits.

  • Apply for or replace a Social Security card. You may have to go to an SSA field office to finish this task, but this link gets you started.

Getting your Social Security password

If you’ve applied for retirement benefits, a Social Security password can be a way to get basic information quickly. It enables you to check the information that the SSA has on file, change your address or phone number, and make changes to direct deposit.

But maybe you don’t want a password, because you worry that it somehow could make your data less secure. You also can block electronic access to your personal Social Security information.

This step provides a strong protection for your information, but it means that you lose some of the convenience of online access: Neither you nor anyone else will be able to review or change your information online or through the SSA’s automated telephone system. You can take this step by going to the link above or calling the SSA at 800‐772‐1213 (TTY 800‐325‐0778). To undo blocked access, you have to call or visit the SSA.

You may request a Social Security password online or by calling the SSA. If you’re handling someone else’s benefit as an appointed financial helper, however, you can’t get a password to access his or her information.

Social Security can give you an extra layer of security for your online account. Just click “If You Want Extra Security.” To get the added protection, you must provide one of the following: information from your W‐2 tax form; information from a 1040 Schedule SE tax form; your direct deposit amount if you get Social Security benefits; or the last eight digits of a Visa, MasterCard, or Discover credit card.

Social Security generally will not ask you for personal financial information, such as details about your credit cards. So this policy is a notable exception. Scammers sometimes seek such data by pretending they work for the Social Security Administration.

Finding out if you’re eligible

Wonder if you’re eligible for benefits? The SSA has put together an online screening tool to help you find out. This is a five‐ to ten‐minute exercise in which you answer a bunch of questions — stuff like birth dates, earnings, and dates of marriage and divorce.

After you fill out the online questionnaire, you’ll be told benefits you may be eligible for and given links for further information. This tool screens your eligibility for retirement, Medicare, disability, survivor, SSI, and special veteran benefits that may go to certain veterans of World War II.

Social Security has dubbed the exercise BEST — for Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool. Think of it as a preliminary guide. It’s of greatest use if you know little about Social Security benefits. You certainly can find the information elsewhere, but you may find it convenient to have it in one place. BEST will base its findings and recommendations on the information you provide.

The screening tool does not provide benefit estimates. But it will suggest benefits you may apply for based on the information you enter.

Mastering the ins and outs of Social Security

If you’re planning to get Social Security benefits, browsing the SSA website is a good idea. You may instantly spot topics that may affect you, such as links to retirement benefits, contact information, and answers to questions about Social Security issues that are currently in the news. The search function is prominently displayed, so if you don’t immediately see what you’re looking for, you can search for it.

At the SSA website, you can find out about the program’s finances. You can even read the top ten names for boys and girls going back many years.

Check out a full list of the SSA’s online publications. Here are a few of the publications that may give you a quick overview of benefits that could apply to your family: