Monthly cash payments are made to retired workers who have
worked in covered employment, to their dependents, and to
the survivors of covered workers.
There is no income test as such and no reduction in benefits
for earnings of employed workers who have reached the
full retirement age (65 for persons born before 1938 and
gradually increasing to 67 for persons born in 1960 or
later). However, there are reductions in benefits for
workers and their families who have not reached retirement
Early Retirement Earnings Deduction:
If a worker is under full retirement age, $1 in benefits
will be deducted for each $2 in earnings above the annual
limit ($14,160) in 2009.
• In the year
a worker reaches "full" retirement age,
his/her benefits will be reduced $1 for every $3 he/she
earned over a different limit ($37,680) in 2009 until
the month the worker reaches "full" retirement
age. Then a worker can work without any reduction
in the amount of monthly benefit, no matter how much
• If other family
members receive benefits on a worker’s Social
Security record, the total family benefits will be
affected by his/her earnings. This means that not
only are the worker’s benefits reduced, but
those payable to the worker’s family as well.
If a family member works, however, the family member’s
earnings affect only his/her benefits.
Income from Pensions:
If a worker receives a pension, in addition to Social
Security benefits, from work where he/she paid Social
Security taxes, it will not affect his/her Social Security.
However, if a worker receives a pension from work that
was not covered by Social Security– for example,
the Federal civil service, some state or local government
employment or work in a foreign country – his/her
Social Security benefit may be lowered or offset.
No assets test.
Social Security distinguishes between “full retirement,”
the age at which full benefits are paid, and “early
retirement.” The full retirement age for persons
born in 1937 and before is 65. For those born after
that, it increases gradually until reaching 67 in 2027.
for Full Benefits
1937 or before
65 and 2 months
65 and 4 months
65 and 6 months
65 and 8 months
65 and 10 months
66 and 2 months
66 and 4 months
66 and 6 months
66 and 8 months
66 and 10 months
1960 and later
A delay in retirement can increase Social Security benefits
(see below for Benefits):
Dependent Spouses and Children:
A spouse receives one-half of the retired worker's full
benefit unless the spouse begins collecting benefits
before full retirement age. In that case, the amount
of the spouse's benefit is permanently reduced by a
percentage based on the number of months before he/she
reaches full retirement age;
A spouse is eligible at any age if he/she is caring
for the worker’s child who is under age 16 or
disabled prior to age 22 and receiving Social Security
The retired worker’s children are eligible if
and under age 18;
• under age 19 years and 2 months, but
in elementary or secondary school as a full-time student;
• age 18 or older and severely disabled
before age 22 (If the child’s disability occurs
after age 22, the child is not eligible).
Divorced spouses must be at least 62 to receive benefits.
(See below, for Other Eligibility Conditions.)
The age requirements for family members who can collect
monthly Survivors’ Insurance (SI) payments based
on the employment record of a deceased spouse or relative
• age 60 or
older for a widow or widower;
• 50-60 for a widow or widower who is
• any age for a widow or widower if he/she
is caring for a child under age 16 or a disabled child
who is receiving Social Security benefits;
• under 18 for unmarried children or
unmarried and age 19 and 2 months if full-time students
enrolled in elementary or secondary school;
• age 18 or older if severely disabled
before age 22.
If the worker is divorced (even if remarried),
the ex-spouse will be eligible for benefits on the worker's
record when he/she dies. In order to qualify, the ex-spouse
• be at least
60 years old (or 50 if disabled) and have been married
for at least 10 years;
• be any age if caring for a child who
is eligible for benefits on the worker’s record;
• not be eligible for an equal or higher
benefit on his/her own record; and
• not be currently married, unless the
remarriage occurred after age 60 (or 50 if disabled).
In cases of remarriage after age 60, the ex-spouse
will be eligible for a widow(er)'s benefit on the worker's
record or a dependent's benefit on the record of his/her
new spouse, whichever is higher. Remarriage after age
60 (50 if disabled) will not prevent benefit payments
of a former spouse's record. And, at age 62 or older,
he/she may get benefits on the record of the new spouse
if they are higher.
If the ex-spouse receives benefits on the worker’s
account, it does not affect the amount of any benefits
payable to other survivors on the worker’s record.
Not a condition, except for:
• children over
18 who must have been disabled before the age of 22.
Dependents’ benefits normally stop when a child
reaches age 18 (or 19 if the child is a full-time student).
However, those benefits can continue to be paid into
adulthood if the child is disabled. To qualify for these
benefits, an individual must be eligible as the child
of someone who is getting Social Security retirement
or disability benefits, or of someone who has died,
and that child must have a disability that began prior
to age 22. Although most of the people getting these
benefits are in their twenties and thirties (and some
even older), the benefit is considered a "child's"
benefit because it is paid on the basis of a parent's
Social Security earnings record.
• a widow/er who
is 50 or older but under 62. A disabled widow or widower
can get benefits at 50-60. The surviving spouse's benefits
may be reduced if he/she also receives a pension from
a job where Social Security taxes were not withheld.
See Social Security: Disability Insurance
for benefits for disabled.
Presence of Spouse:
Not a condition.
Presence of Children:
A spouse who is taking care of a child who is under
age 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits
gets full benefits, regardless of age. A widow/er at
any age who is taking care of the worker’s child
under 16 or disabled who is eligible for benefits. A
former spouse does not have to meet the length-of-marriage
rule if he/she is caring for a child under 16 or disabled
who is also getting benefits on the divorced worker’s
record. The child must be the former spouse's natural
or legally adopted child. A parent who is younger than
retirement age ceases to be eligible for benefits when
the youngest child reaches the age of 16, even if the
children continue to be eligible longer (See Age, above).
A worker must have worked in covered employment (employment
covered by Social Security) and have paid his/her share
of the payroll tax. In 2009, the worker and his/her
employer each pay 6.2% up to the taxable maximum ($106,800) of the
worker's gross pay. Self-employed persons pay both employer
and employee taxes or 12.4%. An additional 1.45% tax is placed on all earnings.
The maximum taxable income is altered yearly to reflect
changes in the average wage.
Credit for a certain amount of work in covered employment
is required in order to be eligible for Social Security
benefits. Most workers need 40 credits (10 years of
work) to qualify for benefits. Credits can also be awarded
for a certain amount of earnings, $1,090 per credit in
2009, but credits are limited to 4 per year or a total
of $4,360. The amount of money needed to earn 1 credit
goes up every year. Deceased workers need to have earned
fewer credits for his/her family members to be eligible
Exhaustion of Benefits From Other
Not a condition. If a worker worked for a federal, state,
or local government at which he/she did not pay Social
Security taxes, the pension the worker receives from
that agency may reduce any Social Security benefits
for which the worker qualifies. (All Federal employees
hired on or after January 1, 1984 are covered under
Social Security.) In addition, some or all of the Social
Security benefit of a spouse or widow(er) may be offset
if the worker received a pension from a job where he/she
did not pay Social Security taxes.
Not a condition.
Participation in Work Program:
Not a condition.
Unmarried children under age 18 are eligible for benefits
whether or not they attend school. However, full-time
school attendance is a requisite for receipt of benefits
by unmarried children between the ages of 18 and 19
years and 2 months.
or legal-immigrant status is required for eligibility.
If a dependent or survivor is not a U.S. citizen, he/she
must have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years during
which time the family relationship on which benefits
are based must have existed. Benefits are suspended
to alien dependents and survivors when they have been
outside the U.S. for more than 6 full calendar months
(except under special considerations). Benefits are
resumed after he/she returns for 1 whole calendar month.
Other Eligibility Conditions:
Length of Marriage
Must be married at least 9 months to be eligible for
Survivors’ Insurance (SI), although there are
Must have been married to the retired or deceased worker
at least 10 years, be unmarried, and ineligible for
an equal or higher benefit on his/her own Social Security
record, or on someone else’s Social Security record.
Parents of a Deceased Worker:
Must have been dependent on the worker for at least
half of their support.
Monthly cash payments to retired workers, the worker’s
dependents, and survivors.
Social Security benefits are based on a worker's earnings
averaged over a working lifetime. They are not based
on the last 5 years or the highest 3 years. This is
different from many private pension plans. Benefits
are calculated in the following way:
The number of years of earnings to use is determined.
The base is the 35 highest years of earnings.
The earnings are adjusted for wage inflation (indexing).
The average adjusted monthly earnings are based
on the number of years in Step 1.
The average adjusted monthly earnings are multiplied
by percentages in an annually adjusted formula. The
Social Security benefit formula is weighted in favor
of low-income workers who have less opportunity to
save and invest during their working years. Consequently,
the percentage is lower for people in the upper income
brackets and higher for people with low incomes. The
5 years of lowest earnings are dropped when determining
benefits. The number of years considered in computing
benefits depends on when a worker reaches the age
of 62. Individualized computations are required for
A worker’s benefit may be recomputed one or more
times after the first computation when the individual
became entitled to retirement benefits. This is done
automatically if the worker has substantial additional
covered earnings in the year he/she first became entitled
to benefits, or in later years. Whether the benefit
adjustment is for a retired worker or a survivor the
benefit adjustment is made retroactive to January of
that same year. A recomputation never decreases a benefit.
Delayed Retirement Credits:
Delayed retirement credits increase the benefit for
workers who continue to work after “full”
retirement age. The benefit will be increased by a designated
percent if the worker chooses to delay receiving retirement
benefits. These increases will be added automatically
from the time the worker reaches full retirement age
until he/she starts collecting benefits or reaches age
70. The benefit increase stops when a person reaches
age 70. The percent increase varies, depending on the
year of the worker’s birth.
||Yearly Rate of Increase
||Monthly Rate of
1943 or later
Benefits for Dependents and Survivors:
A spouse is entitled to one-half of the retired worker’s
full benefit unless the spouse begins collecting benefits
before reaching full retirement age. However, if a spouse
is taking care of a child who is under age 16 or disabled
and receiving Social Security benefits, the benefit
is not affected by age. Spouses eligible for their own
retirement benefits and spousal benefits are entitled
to the higher of the two.
Benefits for survivors depend on their age and the type
of benefit for which they are eligible. For example,
a widow or widower, at full retirement age, gets 100% of the
deceased worker’s benefit; widows and widowers
between 60 and full retirement age get reduced benefits, beginning at
71.5% of the deceased worker’s benefit at 60 years
of age and increasing with each subsequent year. Starting
in 2005, the age at which widows and widowers get 100%
of the deceased spouse’s benefits will be increased
gradually until it reaches age 66 in 2011 and 67 in
Dependent children each get 50% of the benefit of the
retired or 75% of the deceased worker’s benefit,
but there are maximum family benefits.
Since the amount of the benefit depends on the birth
date of the worker and his/her average earnings over
a period of years, maximum benefits will vary from year
to year. In 2009, the maximum monthly retirement benefit
for a worker is $2,323. An individual may use Social
Security’s benefit planners/calculators to calculate
retirement, disability and survivors benefits. This
can be done at any time. This is especially useful if
an individual has special circumstances concerning retirement
plans. The website for the planner is http://www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/
There is no fixed minimum benefit for workers, their
survivors, or dependents.
Taxation of Benefits:
If a worker files a federal income tax return as an
“individual,” and his/her combined income
is between $25,000 and $34,000, the worker is required
to pay taxes on 50% of Social Security benefits. Above
$34,000, the proportion of the benefit that is taxed
rises with income to a maximum of 85%. Benefits of persons
with incomes below $25,000 are not taxed.
If a worker files a joint, federal income tax return,
he/she is required to pay taxes on 50% of the benefits,
if the joint combined income is between $32,000 and
$44,000. Above $44,000, the proportion of the benefit
that is taxed rises with income to a maximum of 85%.
Monthly Retirement Benefits:
Average monthly benefits in 2007 are $1,044 for a retired
worker alone, $1,713 for a couple, $1,008 for an aged
widow/widower, and $2,167 for a survivor family (widow/widower
and two children). Benefit levels vary according to
the year in which the covered individual reached the
age of 62.
Although higher-paid workers get higher benefits, the
replacement rates or ratio of
benefits to former earnings is higher for lower-paid
workers. The reason is that the Social Security benefits
formula is weighted in favor of lower-income workers
who have less opportunity to save and invest during
their working years. The formula resulted in benefits
in 2007 that replaced about 43% of earnings for people
who had average earnings during their working years.
The percentage is lower for people in the upper income
brackets and higher for people with low incomes.
Change in Recipient Status:
Employed, Retired Workers:
If a recipient works and is under the full retirement
age, benefits are subject to the earnings test, as described
in Eligibility: Income, above.
Benefit reductions also apply to employed survivors.
Remarriage of Widow(er):
In cases of remarriage after the age of 60 (or 50 if
disabled), a widow(er) will be eligible for a widow(er)’s
benefit from the deceased spouse or a dependent’s
benefit on the record of his/her new spouse, whichever
Benefits for children are terminated at age 18, or 19
years and 2 months for full-time students.
Changes in Benefit Levels:
Automatic cost of living adjustments (COLAs) insure
beneficiaries against the erosion of benefits from inflation.
The COLA adjustment in January 2009 was 5.8%. Changes
in the COLA other than the automatic change or in benefits
aside from the COLA required an Act of Congress and
the signature of the President.
How to Apply:
An applicant may file online at www.socialsecurity.gov. Application for all benefits may also be handled in person
or by telephone. Call the toll free number at 1-800-772-1213
to arrange an in-office or telephone appointment or
to determine what documents are needed.
Through a payroll tax on employer and employee. In 2009,
the payroll tax for OASDI is 12.4% for the employee and
the employer on the first $106,800 of a worker’s
income, or 6.2% for each. Self-employed persons pay
the full 12.4%. This includes Disability Insurance. Medicare (Health Insurance) is an additional 1.65%. Therefore, the total payroll tax is 15.3% or 7.65% each.
By the Social Security Administration of the Federal
government through about 1,300 branch offices throughout
the United States.
Generally there is a 60-day limit for any type of appeal.
There are 4 levels of appeal:
This is a complete review of a claim by a member of
the SSA staff who did not take part in the first decision.
Most reconsiderations involve a review of files without
the need for the claimant to be present.
2. Hearing by an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ):
If a claimant disagrees with the consideration decision,
he/she may ask for a hearing. The hearing will be
conducted by an administrative law judge who had no
part in the first decision or the reconsideration
of the case. The hearing is usually held within 75
miles of the claimant's home. The ALJ will notify
the claimant of the time and place of the hearing.
The claimant and his/her representative, if there
is one, may come to the hearing and explain the case
in person. The claimant may look at his/her file and
give new information. The ALJ will question the claimant
and any witnesses he/she brings to the hearing.The
claimant and the representative also may question
the witnesses. It is usually to the advantage of the
claimant to attend the hearing. If he/she decides
not to attend, it must be done in writing. Unless
the ALJ believes that the claimant's presence is needed
to decide the case, he/she will make a decision based
on all the information in the case, including any
new information given. After the hearing, a new letter
and a copy of the ALJ's decision will be mailed to
3. Review by Appeals Council:
If the claimant disagrees with the hearing decision,
he/she may ask for a review by SSA’s Appeals
Council. The Appeals Council looks at all requests
for review, but it may deny a request if it believes
the hearing decision was correct. If the Appeals Council
decides to review the case, it will either decide
the case itself or return it to an ALJ for further
review. A copy of the Appeals Council decision will
be mailed to the claimant.
4. Federal Court Review:
If a claimant disagrees with the Appeals Council’s
decision, or if the Appeals Council decides not to
review the case, the claimant may file a lawsuit in
a Federal district court. The action must be taken
within 60 days of the Appeals Council's decision.
Many people handle their own appeals with free help
from the SSA. Claimants can, however, choose a lawyer,
a friend or someone else to help them. Someone who helps
is called a "representative." A representative
can act in most Social Security matters and will receive
a copy of any decisions made about a claim. A representative
cannot charge or collect a fee from the claimant without
first getting written approval from the SSA.
Any recorded information regarding appeals can be obtained
24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays, by
calling toll-free, 1-800-772-1213. A service representative
is available between 7:00 A.M. and 7:00 P.M. on business
days. People who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may call
toll-free, 1-800-325-0778. Social Security information
can be obtained on the Internet at http://www.socialsecurity.gov