What You Need to Know About Social Security Retirement

Are you making the most of your money? Answer 23 questions to get personalized tips on money management & budgeting Get started

What is Social Security?

If you have worked and paid into the Social Security system, you can receive a cash benefit to help you meet your needs due to retirement, disability, or death. You and your dependents or surviving spouse can receive the Social Security benefit. The benefit amount you will get depends on the earnings record of the person who worked. If you work for a non-profit organization or the government, you should check with your employer to make sure you are paying into the Social Security program.

For an overview of the Social Security benefits and the impact of age and work on Social Security benefits, check out Social Security Administration’s booklet at: www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10035.pdf.

Can I get Social Security benefits?

To get Social Security retirement benefits, you must have worked 40 “quarters” (a complete working period of three months) and have paid payroll taxes (FICA) into the Social Security system. Forty quarters is equal to 10 years of work.

If you were born before 1938 and chose to retire at age 65, you will be able to get your full Social Security retirement benefits. However, if you were born after 1938, the retirement age will gradually increase to 67. If you wish to retire earlier, you can get Social Security benefits starting as early as age 62, but retiring early can mean a reduction of up to 30% of your monthly benefit. If you are able to wait until your full retirement age, your monthly benefits will be higher for the rest of your life.

To get the Social Security disability benefit, you must have become severely disabled while working. You can get this benefit at any age if you earned enough quarters of coverage and if you worked recently enough to be covered by Social Security. The number of quarters you must have worked in order to qualify depends on your age. You should apply for Social Security disability benefits as soon as you become disabled.

Should I delay claiming my Social Security benefits?

Social Security benefits can be taken at any time between 62 and 70, but if you wait to claim your benefits, your monthly benefits will be higher for the rest of your life. To learn more, read When to Take Social Security: It Pays to Wait (www.nasi.org/whentotakesocialsecurity) by the National Academy of Social Insurance. You may also use the Social Security Administration’s early and late retirement calculator, which can be found at: www.ssa.gov/OACT/quickcalc/early_late.html.

How do I apply?

To apply or get more information about Social Security benefits, contact the Social Security Administration. The office that administers this program does not provide address information. Please call toll-free: (800) 772-1213 or TTY/TDD: (800) 325-0778.

What Spouses & Former Spouses Need to Know

Spouses, former spouses, and widows/widowers can collect Social Security retirement benefits based on their spouse’s work record. Note, if you/your spouse or ex-spouse draws on the Social Security benefit before full retirement age, you will receive a lower monthly benefit amount. Please see if one of the following situations applies to you:

  • If you are age 62 or older, you may get up to half of your spouse’s full retirement benefit. If you are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits based on your own work history, Social Security will pay you whichever is the higher amount – either the spousal benefit or your own worker’s retirement benefit. Learn more at: www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/yourspouse.html.
  • If you are divorced, age 62 or older, unmarried, and your marriage lasted at least 10 years, you may be able to get spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefit. If this applies to you, you would receive the same spousal benefits that apply to married couples. That means you would get the larger amount of either your own worker’s retirement benefits or up to half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement benefits. If you do collect Social Security based on your ex-spouse’s benefits, it will have no impact on the size of his or her benefits, will not impact the benefits of his or her current spouse, and he or she will not learn about it from Social Security. Learn more at: www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html.
  • Widows and widowers can begin getting survivors’ benefits at age 60, or at age 50, if they are disabled. If you are a widow or widower who is getting benefits based on a deceased spouse’s Social Security benefit, you can switch later to your own retirement benefits as early as age 62. This means that you could start receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then switch to the other benefit at the full rate when you reach retirement age. Learn more at: www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/survivors/.