How to Enroll in Medicare: A Step-by-Step Guide

Man teaching Medicare beneficiary how to enroll in Medicare

Did you know that in most cases, you won’t be notified when you are eligible to enroll in Medicare? No, the federal government does not send you any notices about your eligibility, nor does it provide you with an enrollment guide or timeline. Unfortunately, they expect you to do your own research to figure out how to enroll in Medicare – and when!

If you have questions about Medicare enrollment, you are not alone. People who see their 65th birthday approaching often call us asking when they should enroll, how they apply, and which plans they should choose. There is a lot of information to digest, so today, we’ll start by teaching you the steps to take to enroll in Medicare.

Who Can Enroll in Medicare?

First, let’s make sure you’re eligible. Most people “age into” Medicare when they turn 65, though the program is open to younger individuals with certain health conditions. For our purposes today, we’re going to focus on those who are turning 65. To enroll in Medicare, you must be 65 (or nearing 65) and be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.

Steps to Enroll in Medicare

The steps you’ll need to take to enroll in Medicare will depend on your unique circumstances. Let’s start with the easy one.

If you are already receiving Social Security benefits (or you will be for at least four months before your 65th birthday month), you will be automatically enrolled in Parts A and B. Your Medicare ID card will arrive a few months before your birthday, and benefits will begin on the first day of your birthday month. If your birthday falls on the 1st, benefits will begin on the first day of the prior month. 

Even if you are automatically enrolled in Original Medicare (Parts A and B), you’ll still need to enroll in other coverage, such as Medicare Advantage, a Medigap plan, or a Medicare Part D plan. 

If you are not getting Social Security benefits just yet, you will need to apply for Medicare through the Social Security Administration. You can do so during your Initial Enrollment Period, which begins three full months before your birthday month and ends three full months after your birthday month, giving you a 7-month enrollment window. 

Those who must enroll themselves have three ways to do so. You can apply in person at your local Social Security office, over the phone, or online. As long as you are computer-savvy, we highly recommend enrolling online, as the process tends to be much faster.

Lastly, if you wish to postpone your Medicare enrollment because you have other creditable coverage in place, you’ll be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period when you decide to terminate that coverage. The length of the SEP will depend on your circumstances.

Common Medicare Enrollment Mistakes

Medicare mistakes are not uncommon, especially when it comes to enrollment periods. We have found these three to be the most common Medicare enrollment mistakes.

  1. Some people missing their Initial Enrollment Period and do not have creditable coverage in place. In this instance, you’ll be left without coverage until the General Enrollment Period, which runs from January 1 through March 31.
  2. Many people don’t realize they must have drug coverage. Yes, even if you are not currently taking any prescriptions, you still need to choose a Part D plan or a Medicare Advantage plan with drug coverage. Failure to do so will result in late enrollment penalties.
  3. Some beneficiaries do not allow enough time for learning and research. While there are just four main parts of Medicare, there are many plans to consider. Medicare is not a one-size-fits-all insurance plan as you might expect. Be sure to have plenty of time to learn about all your options and consider which one is right for you.

Medicare Enrollment FAQs

Now that you have a general idea of how to enroll in Medicare let’s discuss a few of the most common questions we get from new beneficiaries.

Blocks with "FAQ" written on them, as an introduction to the Medicare enrollment FAQ section

How long before I turn 65 do I need to apply for Medicare?

If you are “aging into” Medicare, you can apply as early as three full months before your 65th birthday month. When you apply during the months before your birthday, your benefits become active on the first of your birthday month.

How do I apply for Medicare online?

You may apply for Medicare through the Social Security office’s website at

How much does Medicare cost?

The cost of Medicare changes annually. Medicare Part A is premium-free for most people. Everyone pays a premium for Part B, unless you also qualify for Medicaid. The standard Part B premium in 2024 is $174.70. However, if your income is higher, you pay more for Part B and D premiums. The costs or specific plans will vary since they come from private insurance carriers.

Can I sign up for Medicare Part A only?

If you wish to delay Medicare Part B, you can sign up for Part A through the Social Security website. If you plan to do this, be sure you have creditable coverage in place so you will avoid late enrollment penalties later.

How do I get a Medicare ID card?

Once your Medicare application gets approved, you’ll receive your Medicare ID card. It may take several weeks before your card comes in the mail. You will be able to check your SSA account to see if your Medicare ID number is available.

Complete Your Medicare Enrollment with Carolina Senior Benefits

We hope this guide has been helpful as you begin to navigate the Medicare enrollment process. If you have further questions or if you’d like help with your application, Carolina Senior Benefits is here for you! Our team of advisors will be happy to help you choose the right plans for your situation, and we can help you file any necessary paperwork.