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How to Access Social Security Benefits During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Social Security Administration closed all local Social Security offices beginning on March 17, 2020, in an effort to protect older Americans from the coronavirus pandemic. You can no longer make in-person appointments at your local Social Security office, and existing appointments will now take place over the phone.

Here's how to access Social Security services remotely:

-- Social Security benefits continue to be paid via direct deposit.

-- You can apply for Social Security, Medicare and disability benefits online.

-- Create a my Social Security account to access your benefit information.

-- Personal service is available by phone, but expect long wait times.

Here's how to complete Social Security transactions when you can't go to an office in person.

Social Security Benefits Continue to be Paid

Social Security payments continue to be distributed to existing beneficiaries as scheduled via direct deposit and the postal service. "Social Security will pay monthly benefits on time, and these payments will not be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic," says Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, in a statement. "I want our beneficiaries to be aware that scammers may try to trick you into thinking the pandemic is stopping or somehow changing your Social Security payments, but that is not true. Don't be fooled."

The Social Security benefit payment schedule remains the same. Benefits are paid on the second Wednesday of the month for those with birthdays on the 1st through 10th, the third Wednesday for those born the 11th through 20th and the fourth Wednesday for everyone born later in the month.

"The closure of Social Security offices does not affect the distribution of benefits," says Thomas Saving, an economics professor at Texas A&M University and former public trustee for the Medicare and Social Security programs. "Social Security recipients should have no fear that they won't receive their benefits."

[Read: How Much You Will Get From Social Security.]

Apply for Social Security Benefits Online

You can enroll in retirement, disability or Medicare benefits online without leaving your home. "I would always recommend starting a benefit application online, and that's even more important now that Social Security offices are closed due to the coronavirus," says Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and former principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

You can fill out an online application for Social Security benefits if you are at least 61 and 8 months old, and payments can start as early as age 62. Those who are within three months of turning age 65 can sign up for Medicare online.

Before you begin the Social Security enrollment process, take care to collect relevant documents including your Social Security card, birth certificate, marriage, divorce and death certificates, military service record, recent W-2 forms and bank information to set up direct deposit. Keep in mind that monthly Social Security benefits are reduced if you begin payments before your full retirement age and increase with each month of delayed claiming beyond your full retirement age up to age 70.

[Read: How to Apply for Social Security.]

Create a My Social Security Account

Many basic Social Security transactions can be completed online through a my Social Security account. A my Social Security account allows you to view your Social Security statement, review your earnings history and get a personalized estimate of your future Social Security payments. You can also check the status of a Social Security application, set up or change your direct deposit information, request a replacement Social Security card and obtain Social Security tax forms. However, some Social Security transactions cannot be completed online. For example, you cannot report a death or apply for survivor's benefits or children's benefits online.

[Read: Why You Should Create a My Social Security Account.]

Social Security Telephone Services

Social Security appointments will now be handled over the phone. Those who cannot complete their Social Security business online can contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213. The Social Security Administration reduced the national telephone hours to 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. local time beginning on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Local Social Security offices are also reachable by phone. You can find your local office phone number using the field office locator.

The Social Security Administration says telephone wait times are longer than normal, and it could take 90 minutes or more to reach an agent by phone. "For complex issues requiring speaking to someone, I suggest scheduling a phone call," says John Palmer, a Syracuse University professor and former public trustee for the Medicare and Social Security programs. "If you don't have online access, the only alternative presumably will be to call the Social Security Administration national number and hope for the best."

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