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Understanding Social Security Retirement Benefits

Social Security retirement benefits give retirees, qualified disabled individuals and dependents of deceased employees a source of income when they are no longer working. Your Social Security benefits package varies depending on a number of factors, including your income (before you retired and after), your age, pensions you may receive and more.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees the SS retirement benefits program and is responsible for administering benefits. To find out more about Social Security retirement for seniors, including qualifications and how to apply, continue reading the sections below.

What Is the Social Security Retirement Benefit Program?

Social Security retirement benefits provide a source of income to individuals who have worked in the U.S. and paid Social Security taxes. During their time of employment, qualified recipients pay into the Social Security program through these taxes. The SSA then funds several benefits programs, including Social Security retirement, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

While Social Security retirement benefits are not meant to replace an individual’s pre-retirement income, they can supplement it and provide a living wage. In fact, most retirees receive an average of 40 percent of the total income they made prior to retiring.  The program is intended to be only a portion of a retiree’s income plan.

The Social Security Administration determines the total amount of benefits you can receive through the Social Security retirement program, and your benefits package is based on your highest 35 years of income.

How to Qualify for Social Security Retirement Benefits

In order to receive Social Security retirement benefits, you must meet certain criteria determined by the Social Security Administration. Social Security retirement eligibility for seniors includes meeting specific age and work requirements.  

You can be eligible for SS retirement benefits once you reach 62 years of age. If you are a surviving spouse or a dependent, you may be able to receive benefits as early as 60 years of age. If you are a disabled surviving spouse, the SSA may pay your benefits beginning at age 50. 

In addition to meeting age requirements, you must also meet certain requirements based on your work history. During your time of employment, you earn credits toward Social Security retirement as you pay Social Security taxes. To participate in the Social Security retirement program, you need to have at least 40 credits compiled throughout your time of employment.

You can earn a maximum of four credits per year. The amount of income per credit changes frequently to reflect changes in wages and cost of living. Currently, you will receive one credit toward Social Security for every $1,470 you earn and pay Social Security taxes on.

There is no limit to the number of credits you can earn. However, excess credits do not result in excess retirement benefits.

How to Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits

To receive benefits, you must complete the seniors Social Security retirement application process. This involves submitting various documents and providing information about your employment history.  

The Social Security Administration may require you to provide any of the following documents when you apply for Social Security retirement:

  • An original birth certificate or other proof of age
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship (if you were not born in the United States)
  • A copy of your tax return for the previous year
  • A copy of U.S. military service papers (if you served in the U.S. Armed Forces before 1968)

In addition to the documents above, you generally need to provide the following information during the application process:

  • Names and dates related to your employment within the previous two years
  • Information about family members who may qualify for Social Security benefits
  • Dates of current and previous marriages
  • Places you were married
  • Bank information
  • Dates of military service
  • Branches of military service

With the above information on hand, you can apply for retirement benefits from the Social Security program in any of the following ways:

  • Online through the Social Security Administration website
  • By phone at 800-772-1213
  • In person at your local Social Security office

Does My Age at Retirement Affect My SS Benefits?

Yes. The amount of Social Security retirement benefits you can receive depends on your age when you officially retire. If you retire at your full retirement age, you will begin receiving your full benefits.   

Full retirement age is 66 or 67, depending on when you were born. If you were born:

  • Between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66 years of age.
  • In 1960 or later, then your full retirement age is 67.

If you were born between 1955 and 1960, there is a gradual increase in monthly increments between ages 66 and 67.

You may choose to collect Social Security retirement as early as 62 years of age, no matter the year you were born. If you choose to get Social Security benefits earlier than your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced. If you collect at or past your full retirement age up to age 70, you will receive more benefits. However, delaying Social Security retirement benefits beyond 70 years of age will not increase your benefits.

Other Things That Can Affect Social Security Retirement

If you are wondering, “How much do senior citizens get from Social Security?” your Social Security retirement benefits amount may be impacted by several other factors in addition to age. These other factors include current employment or pension packages you may receive.

If you choose to continue working after you reach full retirement age and your salary increases your total average income, your benefits may increase. If you received a pension from a job where you did not pay Social Security taxes, your benefits may decrease. Most other types of pensions do not affect Social Security retirement benefits for seniors.

Can I Get Social Security Benefits and Supplemental Security Income Benefits?

Through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, elderly individuals along with those who are blind or disabled can receive need-based benefits. To be eligible for SSI benefits, your income and resources must fall below a designated limit.

Since SSI benefits are need-based, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must evaluate your income to see if you qualify. The SSA considers your income after adding any Social Security retirement benefits you receive. If it falls below the SSI income limit, you may be able to receive both SS retirement and SSI benefits.

Can I Get Social Security Retirement and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

No, you cannot receive SS retirement and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits simultaneously. SSDI benefits will be automatically changed over to Social Security retirement benefits once you reach your full retirement age. This change occurs regardless of the number of work credits that you have compiled. Your total benefit amount will not be affected when this change happens; you will continue receiving the same amount of money in retirement benefits as you received in disability.