Learn About Social Security Retirement Benefits

Learn about the requirements to receive Social Security Retirement benefits. Find out how to apply for Social Security benefits and when you can do so.

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Intro to Social Security Retirement Benefits

Social Security benefits provide a source of income to retirees and disabled individuals who qualify. These benefits can also be provided to qualifying surviving dependents of workers who have passed away. The amount of benefits you can receive is determined by several factors, including your pre-retirement income, when you begin receiving benefits, and income that you continue to earn through employment, pensions, and more. 

These benefits are paid by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). To learn more about Social Security Retirement benefits, including eligibility requirements and how to apply for benefits, continue reading the sections below.  

What are SS Retirement benefits? 

When you earn income, you pay Social Security taxes. These taxes are used to pay out Social Security benefits, including Social Security Retirement, Social Security Disability Insurance, and Supplemental Security Income. 

On average, retirees receive 40 percent of their pre-retirement income from the Social Security Retirement program. When determining benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses your highest 35 years of wages to determine your average income. Because retirees only receive an average of 40 percent of their previous income, the Social Security Retirement program is meant to be one part of an individual’s retirement plan. 

Requirements for Social Security Retirement Benefits 

To qualify for Social Security Retirement benefits, you must meet age and work requirements. Social Security Retirement benefits are only available for seniors 62 years of age or older unless you are a surviving spouse or dependent. 

You must also meet work-based eligibility requirements. While employed, you pay Social Security taxes and earn “credits” towards Social Security Retirement eligibility. To qualify for Social Security Retirement, you need to have earned at least 40 credits over your lifetime. 

As of 1978, you can earn up to four of these credits per year. The amount of credits you earn is based on your earnings. The amount you must make per credit has changed over the years. In 2023, one credit is earned for every $1,640 in wages that you pay into Social Security taxes. 

While you can earn more than 40 Social Security credits, excess credits do not affect the benefits you will receive through the Social Security Retirement program.  

How to Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits 

To apply for Social Security Retirement benefits, you will need to gather certain information and documentation. Documents that you may need to provide to the Social Security Administration (SSA) include: 

  • Your original birth certificate or another acceptable proof of age 
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship if you were not born in the United States 
  • A copy of your tax forms for last year
  • A copy of your U.S. military service papers, if you served in the U.S. Armed Forces before 1968

You must also provide the following information where applicable on your application: 

  • Your U.S. military service branches and dates
  • Employer dates and names for the past two years 
  • The dates of any current and previous marriages you have, as well as where you were married 
  • Your bank information
  • Information about any family members who may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits on your record 

With the above information and documentation on hand, you can apply for Social Security Retirement in the following ways: 

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

How Your Retirement Age Affects Your SS Benefits

Your pre-retirement income is not the only factor determining the amount of benefits you can receive under the Social Security Retirement program. Your age when you retire is another.

The full retirement age is 66 or 67 years old, depending on the year you were born. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66 years old. If you were born in 1960 or later, then your full retirement age is 67. There is a gradual increase from 66 to 67 for those born between 1955 and 1960. 

The earliest that you can retire and receive Social Security Retirement benefits is 62, regardless of the year that you were born. However, if you begin receiving benefits before your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced. Should you choose to delay your retirement, you will receive more benefits. However, there is no benefit to waiting to collect Social Security Retirement benefits after you reach 70. 

Other Factors That May Affect Your Social Security Benefits 

While pre-retirement income and your retirement age are the two primary factors determining your Social Security Retirement benefits, other factors can affect your benefit amount, including employment and certain types of pensions. 

Should you choose to continue working beyond your full retirement age, you may be able to increase your future Social Security benefits if your wages increase your average earnings. 

While most pensions do not impact your retirement benefits, pensions can affect your benefits if you received a pension through a job where you did not pay into Social Security taxes. 

How to Receive Social Security Retirement and Supplemental Security Income Benefits

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides need-based benefits to aged, blind, and disabled persons. To qualify for SSI benefits, you must be under a specific income and resource threshold and meet other eligibility requirements. 

If your total income after your Social Security Retirement benefits is calculated is lower than the SSI income limit, you may qualify for both Social Security Retirement and SSI benefits. 

As a need-based program, SSI benefit amounts are determined by your income. The higher income you have, the fewer SSI benefits you will receive. In 2023, the maximum federal benefit amount for SSI is $914 for an individual and $1,371 for a married couple. However, in addition to these benefits, almost all states provide additional supplement payments to qualifying recipients. These benefits may either be distributed by the Social Security Administration or by the state, depending on your state. 

States and territories that do not provide additional benefits are: 

  • Arizona 
  • The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands
  • Mississippi 
  • North Dakota 
  • West Virginia 

Can you receive SS Retirement benefits if you are currently receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

If you are currently receiving SSDI from the SSA, your benefits will automatically be converted to Social Security Retirement benefits once you reach your full retirement age (see above), regardless of the number of credits that you earn. The amount of benefits you receive will not change with this conversion. 

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