Social Security Retirement Benefits

Authored By: Lagniappe Law Lab

About

About Social Security Retirement Benefits

Social Security retirement benefits are a form of government-provided financial assistance for individuals who have reached retirement age and have paid into the Social Security system through payroll taxes. These benefits are intended to provide a basic level of income to help seniors meet their basic living expenses during retirement.

The amount of your Social Security retirement benefits are based on your earnings history and the age at which you begin receiving benefits. The Social Security Retirement benefit is a monthly check that replaces part of your income when you reduce your hours or stop working altogether. 

To be eligible, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain number of years. Generally, you must have worked and paid into the system for at least 10 years. 

What You Need To Know

"Full Retirement Age" is a point in time between ages 66 and 67, which SSA uses to determine your benefit amount, as well as your family's benefits. Regardless of your Full Retirement Age, your payment will be higher the longer you wait to apply, up until age 70.

Before Full Retirement Age (between ages 66 and 67), your benefit payment will be temporarily reduced if you earn more than your earnings limit in the year. You can work after Full Retirement Age and earn as much as you’d like without reducing your benefit payment.

Even if they have never worked under Social Security, your spouse may be eligible for benefits if they are at least 62 years of age and you are receiving retirement or disability benefits. Your spouse may also qualify for Medicare at age 65. 

If your spouse qualifies for benefits on their own record, SSA will pay that amount first. If the benefit on your record is higher, they will get an additional amount on your record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.

The benefits for your spouse do not include any delayed retirement credits you may receive.

When you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, your children may also qualify to receive benefits on your record. Your eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child, or stepchild. A dependent grandchild may also qualify.

To receive benefits, the child must:

Benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school at age 18, benefits will continue until the child graduates or two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.

Benefits paid for your child will not decrease your retirement benefit. In fact, the value of the benefits they may receive, added to your own, may help you decide if taking your benefits sooner may be more advantageous.

If Your Child Works

If a child on your record works while receiving benefits, the same earnings limits apply to them as apply to you.

If your child is eligible for benefits this year and is also working, you can use the SSA Retirement Earnings Test Calculator to see how those earnings would affect the child's benefit payments.

If you are divorced, your ex-spouse can receive benefits based on your record (even if you have remarried) if:

  • Your marriage lasted 10 years or longer.
  • Your ex-spouse is unmarried.
  • Your ex-spouse is age 62 or older.
  • The benefit that your ex-spouse is entitled to receive based on their own work is less than the benefit they would receive based on your work.
  • You are entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

If you have not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, your ex-spouse can receive benefits on your record if you have been divorced for at least two continuous years.

If your ex-spouse is eligible for retirement benefits on their own record, SSA will pay that amount first. If the benefit on your record is higher, they will get an additional amount on your record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.

If Your Ex-Spouse Works

If your ex-spouse continues to work while receiving benefits, the same earnings limits apply to them as apply to you. If your ex-spouse is eligible for benefits this year and is also working, you can use the SSA retirement earnings test calculator to see how those earnings would affect those benefit payments.

If your ex-spouse will also receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security, such as government work, their Social Security benefit on your record may be affected.

The amount of benefits your divorced spouse gets has no effect on the amount of benefits you or your current spouse may receive.

If You Remarry

If you remarry, your ex-spouse will still be eligible for benefits if they meet the requirements.

If you are a survivor of a worker who dies, you may be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits. The types of survivors who may be eligible for benefits include:

  1. Spouse: A surviving spouse may be eligible for benefits if they were married to the deceased worker for at least nine months prior to the worker's death. The benefit amount will be based on the deceased worker's earnings and the age of the surviving spouse.

  2. Child: A surviving child may be eligible for benefits if they are unmarried and under the age of 18 (or under 19 if still attending high school). A child with a disability that occurred before the age of 22 may be eligible for benefits at any age.

  3. Parent: A surviving parent may be eligible for benefits if they were dependent on the deceased worker for at least half of their support.

The amount of survivor benefits will depend on various factors, including the deceased worker's earnings history and the survivor's age and relationship to the worker. The Social Security Administration can provide more detailed information about eligibility requirements and benefit amounts.

How To Apply

Steps To Applying For Retirement Benefits

Make sure you meet the eligibility requirement for Social Security retirement benefits. You must be at least 62 years old and have earned a minimum of 40 credits (which is typically equivalent to 10 years of work). 

You can start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, you are entitled to full benefits when you reach your full retirement age. If you delay taking your benefits from your full retirement age up to age 70, your benefit amount will increase.

If you start receiving benefits early, your benefits are reduced a small percentage for each month before your full retirement age.

To find out how much your benefit will be reduced if you begin receiving benefits from age 62 up to your full retirement age, visit this resource

Before you apply, be sure to consider: 

  • What month that you want to start your Retirement benefit (between ages 62 and 70)
  • If you need to apply for Medicare separately or will be enrolled automatically

Check your Social Security account to see how much you'll get when you apply at different times between ages 62 and 70.

You can apply online by using the Social Security Retirement/Medicare Benefit Application to apply for retirement, spouse's, divorced spouse, or Medicare benefits.

If you and your spouse apply online for retirement benefits at the same time, or if your spouse applies online after you start receiving benefits, SSA will check their eligibility for benefits as a spouse. If they are qualified, the online application will automatically include a request for spousal benefits on your record.

Other Issues To Consider

Other Issues To Consider

You have the right to appeal an SSA retirement benefits decision and request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Your request must be in writing and received within 60 days of the date you receive the letter containing SSA's decision.

Learn more about how to appeal a denial by visiting this resource here

You're eligible to get Medicare at age 65 and the sign-up process for Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) is completed through SSA. If you decide to sign up for Part B, the cost will be taken out of your monthly benefit amount. Be sure to plan ahead for that reduction. Learn more about when to sign up for Medicare by visiting this resource

You may pay federal income taxes on your benefits if your combined income (50% of your benefit amount plus any other earned income) exceeds $25,000/year filing individually or $32,000/year filing jointly. You can pay the IRS directly or have taxes withheld from your payment. Learn how to make a request to withhold taxes here

Last Review and Update: Apr 06, 2023
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