1: How does it work?

You pay a portion of your earnings to Social Security or self-employment taxes throughout your career and your employer will pay an equal amount. Based on your earnings record, you receive benefits that can provide income when needed. Family members can also receive benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) receives your earnings and taxes from your employer or, if you’re self-employed, from the Internal Revenue Service. Your Social Security number is then used to track your earnings and benefits.

Find out more about future benefits by signing up for an account at www.ssa.gov. There, you can view your online Social Security Statement with detailed records and use other tools within the website. You’ll receive a statement in the mail every five years from age 25-60 if you’re not registered or receiving benefits. After 60, you’ll receive the statement annually.

2: How am I eligible?

When paying Social Security Taxes, you earn credits that enable you to qualify for benefits. You can earn up to 4 credits per year. Most people must build up 40 credits to be eligible for retirement benefits, but need fewer credits to be eligible for other benefits.

3: What are my benefits?


Your retirement benefits are based on your average earnings throughout your career. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66 and this can affect your benefit amount. Full month retirement age increases in two-month increments after that, until it reaches 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

However, no matter what your full retirement age, you can begin receiving retirement benefits at age 62. You’ll receive a reduced benefit if you retire early, but you’ll receive benefits for a longer period than someone who retires at full retirement age.


If you become disabled, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. You can find the definition of disability on the SSA website. This is a strict definition of disability; benefits won’t begin until the sixth full month after the onset of your disability. Processing your claim may take some time, so apply for disability benefits as soon as possible.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pays monthly benefits to people with limited income or resources; this can include those who are disabled, blind or 65 years or older. You can learn more about SSI and apply by visiting the SSA website.


If you begin receiving these benefits, your family may be eligible as well. Eligible family members may include:

  • Spouse age 62 plus (married at least 1 year)
  • Former spouse age 62 plus (married at least 10 years)
  • Spouse or former spouse at any age (if caring for your child under 16 or disabled)
  • Children under 18 (unmarried)
  • Children under 19, if full-time students (through grade 12) or disabled
  • Children 18 plus (severely disabled)

Each family member may receive a benefit as much as 50 percent of your benefit. However, the amount that can be paid monthly to a family is limited. The total benefit that your family can receive based on your earnings record is about 150 to 180 percent of your full retirement benefit amount. If the total family benefit exceeds this limit, each family member’s benefit will be reduced proportionately. Your benefit won’t be affected.


When you die, your family members may qualify for survivor benefits.

These family members include:

  • Widow(er) or ex-spouse age 60 plus (or age 50 or older if disabled)
  • Widow(er) or ex-spouse at any age (caring for your child under 16 or disabled)
  • Children under 18 (unmarried)
  • Children under 19, if full-time students (through grade 12) or disabled
  • Children 18 plus (severely disabled)
  • Parents (dependent on you for at least half of their support)

They may also receive a one-time $255 death benefit immediately after you die.

4: How do I apply?

There are a few ways to apply for benefits:

  • Through SSA website www.ssa.gov (recommended)
  • By calling (800) 772-1213
  • By appointment at your local SSA office

It’s suggested to apply for benefits three months before you want them to start. When applying for disability or survivor benefits, apply as soon as you’re eligible.

Documents you (and your family members) may need include:

  • Birth certificate
  • W-2 forms
  • Verification of your Social Security number

The documents must be original or certified copies.  The SSA representative will let you know which documents are needed and help get documents you don’t have.