Your Free Guide to Social Security Retirement Benefits

Your Free Guide to Social Security Retirement Benefits

You will learn about:
  • All the different ways to apply for Social Security Retirement benefits
  • The requirements you need to meet to get Social Security Retirement benefits
  • How much you may receive in Social Security Retirement benefits

19 min – Estimated reading time

Your Free Guide to Social Security Retirement Benefits

Your Free Guide to Social Security Retirement Benefits

COVID-19 and Social Security Retirement Benefits

To limit the spread of COVID-19, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has taken steps to ensure the safety of beneficiaries as well as department employees. All Social Security field offices remain closed to the general public. You may only conduct in-person business in person after making an appointment. Only you will be allowed into the building; you cannot bring family members or other individuals with you unless you have arranged for special circumstances when scheduling your appointment. Schedule an appointment by calling your nearest SSA field office. Use the search tool here: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp.

Some beneficiaries who previously scheduled a hearing in person may have it changed to a telephone or virtual hearing to enforce social distancing and limit person-to-person contact. If this applies to you, the SSA will notify you regarding any changes to your hearing. 

Social Security Retirement Benefits

Seniors who have retired from their jobs and meet certain work-related requirements are eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits, which is money that can be used to replace a portion of their pre-retirement income. The program is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Continue reading the sections below to learn more about Social Security retirement benefits.

Seniors and Social Security Retirement Benefits

Social Security retirement benefits, often referred to as just “Social Security,” are payments made to eligible retirees and their families. Most people who work pay Social Security taxes during their time of employment. These taxes are used to pay the following people:

  • Retirees
  • Disabled individuals
  • Survivors of workers who have died
  • Dependents of beneficiaries

Individuals earn credits toward Social Security benefits when they work. Once they have accrued enough credits, they can begin collecting retirement benefits. Learn more about requirements in the sections below.

The total amount of money that seniors can collect through Social Security retirement benefits depends on the following factors:

  • Their age when they retire
  • Total lifetime earnings
  • Whether they have a pension

Social Security Retirement Contact Information Directory

Main Phone Number

1-800-772-1213

General SS Retirement Eligibility for Seniors

To receive Social Security retirement benefits, seniors must meet certain age and work requirements: 

Work Credit Requirements

Credits are earned by working and paying Social Security taxes. Seniors who were born in 1929 or later need at least 40 credits (roughly 10 years of work) to start receiving retirement benefits.

Seniors who stop working before collecting enough credits to qualify for retirement benefits will not lose any credits they have already earned. Work credits remain on seniors’ Social Security record. If they return to work later, they can add more credits to qualify. 

Seniors cannot receive retirement benefits until they have the required number of credits. Those who are still working and planning for retirement can earn up to four credits each year. Currently, workers earn one Social Security credit for every $1,510 in covered earnings each year. When they earn $6,040 they have reached the maximum four credits for the year. 

It is possible to earn more than the minimum 40 work credits. Those who have more than the minimum will not receive more retirement benefits. The total number of work credits does not affect retirement benefit amounts. 

Age Requirements

Seniors can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits as soon as they reach 62 years of age. However, the age at which they begin collecting benefits affects their overall benefit amount. 

The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines an individual’s full retirement age, which is the age at which he or she qualifies for the full amount of benefits. The chart below summarizes the full retirement age for seniors based on their year of birth.

Birth YearFull Retirement Age
1943 – 195466 years of age
1955 66 years and 2 months
195666 years and 4 months
195766 years and 6 months
195866 years and 8 months
195966 years and 10 months
1960 or later67 years of age

Seniors who start collecting their benefits before reaching full retirement age will see their benefit amount reduced by between 20 and 30 percent.  The percentage by which a senior’s benefits will be reduced depends on how many months are left before his or her full retirement age. 

The chart below outlines the percentage by which retirement benefits are reduced for primary retirees and their spouses when the retiree begins receiving benefits at age 62. For purposes of this example, the data is based on a primary insurance amount of $1,000 per month. 

The “Number of Reduction Months” column refers to the total amount of months between the age at which a retiree chooses to start receiving benefits and the age at which he or she is fully retired. For example, a retiree whose full retirement age is 65 and who chooses to receive benefits at age 62 would be penalized for 36 months (since there are 36 months between 65 and 62 years of age).

Birth YearFull Retirement AgeNumber of Reduction MonthsPrimary Retiree AmountPrimary Retiree Percent ReductionSpouse AmountSpouse Percent Reduction
1937 or earlier6536$80020%$37525%
193865 and 2 months38$79120.83%$37025.83%
193965 and 4 months40$78321.67%$36626.67%
194065 and 6 months42$77522.50%$36227.50%
194165 and 8 months44$76623.33%$35828.33%
194265 and 10 months46$75824.17%$35429.17%
1943 – 19546648$75025%$35030%
195566 and 2 months50$74125.83%$34530.83%
195666 and 4 months52$73326.67%$34131.67%
195766 and 6 months54$72527.50%$33732.50%
195866 and 8 months56$71628.33%$33333.33%
195966 and 10 months58$70829.17%$32934.17%
19606760$70030%$32535%

For more information about the chart listed above, view it on the SSA website here: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/quickcalc/earlyretire.html 

Those who delay their benefits beyond their full retirement age will see their benefit amount increase due to a delayed retirement credit. Seniors can delay benefits up until reaching the age of 70. Each year they delay their benefits, their benefits will increase by a certain percentage. The chart below includes information about the delayed retirement credit, which varies depending on the beneficiary’s year of birth. 

Birth YearCredit Per Delayed Year
1917 – 19243%
1925 – 19263.5%
1927 – 19284%
1929 – 19304.5%
1931 – 19325%
1933 – 19345.5%
1935 – 19366%
1937 – 19386.5%
1939 – 19407%
1941 – 19427.5%
1943 and later8%

How to Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits

You should apply for Social Security retirement benefits four months before you want your benefits to begin. So, if you want your benefits to begin at age 62, you must apply at age 61 and eight months. 

You can apply for benefits in the following ways:

  • Online
  • By phone
  • In person

How to Apply Online

  1. Visit the Social Security website here: https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/rib 
  1. Sign into your mySocialSecurity account.
    • Click “Start a New Application.” 
  1. Enter all required information.
  1. Click “Submit Now.” 

Once you submit the form, you will receive a receipt and an application number which you should keep for future reference. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will process your application and mail you their decision. 

How to Apply by Phone

Call the following number Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 AM and 7 PM:

1-800-772-1213

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call:

1-800-325-0778.

How to Apply in Person

Visit your local Social Security office in person. Use the search tool here to find an office near you: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp 

Information and Documents Needed to Apply

When you apply for Social Security retirement benefits, you will need to provide a variety of personal information and documents that can be used to verify your application. Be prepared to submit the following information:

  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Names of employers for the past two years
  • Dates of employment for the past two years
  • Self-employment income and type of business
  • Bank information to set up your direct deposit
  • Dates and locations of current and/or previous marriages
  • U.S. military service, including service dates and branches
  • Information on family members who may be eligible to receive benefits on your record

You will also need to provide the following documents:

  • An original or certified copy of your birth certificate issued before you reached 5 years of age
    • If you cannot provide one, you can submit two of the following documents to prove your age:
      • Birth certificate recorded after reaching age 5
      • School record 
      • State census record
      • Vaccination record 
      • Insurance policy 
      • Hospital admission record
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • Tax return for the previous year
  • Copy of U.S. military service papers, if you served before 1968

How Much You Can Receive in Retirement Benefits

The amount of Social Security retirement benefits you receive depends on your lifetime earnings. The SSA adjusts your actual earnings to account for changes in wages since the year the earnings were received. Your average adjusted earnings are calculated for the 35 years in which you earned the most money.

Then, the SSA applies a formula to these earnings and determines your basic benefit, otherwise known as the primary insurance amount (PIA). This is the maximum amount you will receive per month at your full retirement age. To determine your full retirement age, see the chart listed in the “Age Requirements” section.

The SSA has an online benefit calculator you can use to estimate your Social Security retirement benefits. Access it here: https://secure.ssa.gov/acu/ACU_KBA/main.jsp?URL=%2Fapps8z%2FARPI%2Fmain.jsp%3Flocale%3Den&LVL=4

To use the calculator,  you must verify your identity by providing your:

  • Full name
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth

The calculator will only provide you with an estimate of your retirement benefits. Your actual benefit amount varies depending on future increases or decreases to your earnings, changes in cost of living or changes in laws or policies.

Retirement Benefits for Surviving Spouses and Children

Spouses, ex-spouses and children may be eligible to receive retirement benefits on your benefit record. Any benefits they receive will not decrease your own retirement benefits. 

Requirements for Spouses

For your current spouse to qualify for retirement benefits on your record, he or she must be at least 62 years of age. However, if your spouse is caring for your child who is receiving benefits (see eligibility for children below), then he or she qualifies at any age. 

Your spouse would receive benefits until your child reaches age 16. At that time, the child’s benefits continue but your spouse’s benefits stop unless they are old enough to receive benefits based on age.

If your spouse qualifies for retirement benefits on his or her own, he or she will receive those benefits first. If your benefits are higher, your spouse will get an additional amount on your record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.

Requirements for Ex-Spouses

If you are divorced, your ex-spouse may qualify for benefits on your Social Security record even if you get remarried. To qualify on your record, your ex-spouse must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Must have been married to you for at least 10 years
  • Must be 62 years of age or older
  • Must not have remarried
  • Cannot be eligible for an equal or higher benefit on his or her own Social Security record or on another person’s Social Security record

Note: If your ex-spouse will receive a pension from a government or foregin job, his or her benefits on your Social Security record will be reduced by two-thirds unless:

  • The pension is not based on earnings
  • The pension is from a federal, Civil Service Offset, state or local government job where your ex-spouse paid Social Security taxes AND at least one of the following applies:
    • He or she filed for and was entitled to spouse, widow, or widower benefits before April 1, 2004.
    • His or her last day of employment was before July 1, 2004.
    • He or she paid Social Security taxes on earnings during the last 60 months of government service.

Requirements for Children

Your children may also qualify to receive benefits on your record. Your eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child, dependent grandchild or stepchild. To receive benefits, children must be:

  • Unmarried.
  • Younger than age 18.
    • Full-time students may be between the ages of 18 and 19.
    • Children with disabilities that began before age 22 can receive benefits when they become 18 or older.

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