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How to Apply for Social Security Benefits

Unfortunately, the percentage of American seniors in debt is on the rise—it’s up 18.5% in the past two decades. Being a senior citizen can be expensive—from home care services to medical expenses to accessibility needs, there are a variety of new expenses to account for in your budget (or your loved one’s). 

Luckily, the U.S. government offers monthly benefits to Americans 65 or over through the Social Security Income (SSI) program. Read on to learn how to apply to start receiving these monthly benefits as a New Yorker.

Key Takeaways

  • If you are 65 or older, you are eligible to receive monthly Social Security Income (SSI) from the U.S. government. You can file for these benefits online, over the phone, or in person at your local Social Security Office.
  • New Yorkers may also be eligible for supplemental monthly benefits from the State.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary information and documents on hand when you apply (see below), but it’s recommended that you apply as soon as you can, even if you are missing documents, to ensure you receive all the benefits you are due.

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How to Apply for Social Security Benefits in New York

If you are 65 or older, have a disability, are blind, or have little to no income or resources, you are eligible for Social Security Income (SSI) from the U.S. government.

Income RequirementsYou earn less than $1,913 from work each month
(or) Resource RequirementsYou have less than $2,000 as an individual or $3,000 as a couple, plus $2,000 per child, in bank accounts or assets (like vehicles)

Through the SSI program, you’ll receive a check each month for up to $943 as an individual or $1,415 as a couple (the average SSI check received monthly by people over 65 this year was $553).

New Yorkers may also be eligible for the New York State Supplement program (SSP). When you apply for SSI, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will automatically share your information with New York State, who will determine your eligibility for additional SSP benefits. You’re eligible for SSP if you:

  • Are 65 or older, blind, disabled, or a child under the age of 18 who has a physical or mental impairment AND
  • A resident of New York State AND
  • Have limited income and resources AND
  • Are a citizen or a qualified alien, or otherwise meet U.S. citizenship requirements

These are the maximum benefits you may receive as of 2023, including SSP, based on your living situation.

You can apply for Social Security benefits online, by calling the toll-free number 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or by visiting your local Social Security office (you can locate it here—be sure to call ahead to make an appointment). 

If you’re currently living outside the U.S. or its territories, you can visit your local U.S. Social Security Office or a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Important Information and Documents to Have 

When applying for social security benefits, you may be asked for certain documents, so it’s important to have the relevant ones on hand. Before applying, you should gather:

  • Proof of birth (birth certificate or other document like State census record or insurance policy)
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status (i.e. passport, Certificate of Naturalization)
  • If you served in the U.S. military before 1968, a copy of your military service papers (i.e. DD-214 – Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty)
  • W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax return

It’s also important to have all the necessary information to fill out the online application forms, including:

  • Your name, date of birth, place of birth, and social security number (and the same information for your current spouse and any former spouses)
  • Your date of marriage and the date of your spouse’s death/your divorce (if applicable)
  • The names of any unmarried children under 18, any children aged 18-19 who are still in elementary or high school, and any children who were disabled before turning 22
  • Your bank account number and routing number
  • Your citizenship status
  • Whether you’ve ever filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (if someone else has applied on your behalf/applied with you on their Social Security record, you’ll also need their social security number)
  • Whether you’ve ever used another social security number (and the number if yes)
  • The month you’d like your retirement benefits to begin (if you’re applying for retirement benefits)
  • Whether you want to enroll in Medical Insurance (Part B of Medicare) (only if you are within three months of age 65)

Finally, you’ll need some information about your work, including:

  • The name and address of your employer(s) from this year and last year
  • The amount of money you earned this year and last year (if filing for benefits between September and December, you’ll need to provide an estimate for next year as well)
  • A record of your earnings or a copy of your Social Security Statement (can be viewed online when you make a Social Security account and sign in to the official website,, for the first time)
  • The beginning and ending dates of any active U.S. military service before 1968
  • If, at any time in the past 14 months, you became unable to work because of illness, injury, or a medical condition (and if so, the date you became unable to work)
  • Whether you or your spouse has ever worked in the railroad industry
  • Whether you have ever earned Social Security benefits under any other country’s Social Security system
  • Whether you qualified for or expect to receive a pension or annuity based on your own employment within the U.S. federal government or one of its local subdivisions

What to Do If You Don’t Have All the Documents

Even if you don’t have all the necessary documents on hand, the U.S. Social Security Administration recommends you still apply with the documents you do have. If you’re able to find more documents, you can add them to your application later. 

The SSA may also be able to help you find documents and records you don’t currently have. Your local Social Security office can contact the Bureau of Vital Statistics to verify your information online free of charge (and even if this isn’t possible in your situation, the SSA can still take other measures to help you verify your information).

You should submit your application as soon as you can, even if it’s incomplete, to ensure you don’t lose any benefits you may be due.

Helpful Resources and Phone Numbers

For more information, visit: 

Or call (toll-free):

  • 1-800-772-1213
    • 24/7 automated service, or speak to a representative 8am-7pm Monday-Friday
  • TTY text telephone number for those with a hearing or speech disability: 1-800-325-0778
    • Open 8am-7pm Monday-Friday
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