Social Security University


Social Security Frequently Asked Questions

1. When Am I Eligible to Receive Benefits?


Based on when you were born, retirement benefits may begin as early as age 62 (partial benefits) and as late as age 67.

  • If you were born prior to 1938, your full eligibility date is age 65.
  • If you were born after 1960, your full eligibility date is age 67.
  • People born in between 1938 and 1942 are eligible on a graduating scale that increases by two months per year.
  • Persons born between 1943 and 1954 are eligible for full benefits at age 66.
  • Those born between 1955 and 1960 are eligible based on a graduating scale that increases by two months per year, culminating in an eligibility age of 67 for those born in 1960 or later.

2. How Is Eligibility Determined?


Eligibility for Social Security is based on credits earned during your working years. Most people need to earn 40 credits in order to qualify. As of 2011, one credit is given for every $1,120 in earned income up to a maximum of four credits per year.

3. How Much Money Will I Receive?


The amount of your Social Security benefit is calculated by averaging the earnings from your 35 highest income-generating years. The average monthly social security payment is $1,082. However, as of January 2012 there will be a 3.6% increase in the cost of living benefit which works out to an additional $467 per year or an average of $1,549 per month.

4. Can I Receive Social Security If I Am Still Employed?


When you reach your full retirement age, you can continue to work without negatively impacting your Social Security benefits payments. If you opt to receive Social Security prior to your full retirement age, you are permitted to earn up to $14,160 for 2011. For every $2 in earnings over the limit, $1 is withheld from the benefits. In the year you reach your retirement age, you may earn up to $37,680. For every $3 in earnings over the limit, $1 is withheld from the benefits until the month you reach your full retirement age.

5. How Does Social Security Work for My Spouse?


If your spouse has worked long enough to qualify for Social Security, you both qualify for full benefits. If your spouse did not work or earned only a small amount and therefore qualifies for a benefit from Social Security that is less than half of your benefit, your spouse's benefit will be increased to a rate equal to half of your benefit amount.

6. What Happens If My Spouse Dies?


If the surviving spouse has reached their full retirement age, the spouse is entitled to 100% of the deceased worker's basic benefit amount. Prorated amounts are paid to surviving spouses that have not yet reached retirement age. If the surviving spouse was receiving Social Security benefits and the deceased's benefits were greater, the survivor will receive the higher benefit amount.

7. Can I claim spousal benefits if I'm divorced?


You are eligible for dependents benefits if both you and your former spouse have reached age 62, your marriage lasted at least ten years, and you have been divorced for at least two years. This two-year waiting period does not apply if your former spouse was already collecting retirement benefits before the divorce.

You can collect benefits as soon as your former spouse is eligible for retirement benefits. He or she does not actually have to be collecting those benefits for you to collect your dependents benefits.

If you are collecting dependents benefits on your former spouse's work record and then marry someone else, you lose your right to those benefits. You may, however, be eligible to collect dependents benefits based on your new spouse's work record. If you divorce again, you can return to collecting benefits on your first spouse's record, or on your second spouse's record if you were married for at least ten years the second time around.

8. I have never worked, but my spouse has. What will my Social Security benefit be?


You can be entitled to as much as one-half of your spouse's benefit amount if you start your benefits when you reach full retirement age. If you want to get Social Security retirement benefits before you reach full retirement age, the amount of your benefit will be reduced. The amount of reduction depends on when you will reach full retirement age.

9. Can I collect more than one type of benefit at a time?


No. You may qualify for more than one type of Social Security benefit at a time, but you can collect just one. For example, you might be eligible for both retirement and disability, or you might be entitled to benefits based on your own retirement as well as on that of your retired spouse. You can collect whichever one of these benefits is higher, but not both.

10. Will There Be Any Money Left When I Retire?


The general consensus is that the U.S. government will not let the Social Security program fail. However, that does not mean that the program will be maintained in its existing state. Legislators have already increased the eligibility date for receipt of full benefits from age 65 to age 67 for citizens born in 1960 or later. Additional increases in the age of eligibility, reductions in benefits, or both, are likely to be necessary in order to get the program back on solid footing. Raising taxes to fund the system is another likely course of action.