About Your Retirement Benefits

How Do You Qualify For Retirement Benefits?
When you work and pay Social Security taxes (called FICA on some pay stubs), you earn Social Security credits. Most people earn the maximum of four credits per year.

The number of credits you need to get retirement benefits depends on your date of birth. If you were born in 1929 or later, you need 40 credits (10 years of work). People born before 1929 need fewer than 40 credits (39 credits if born in 1928; 38 credits if born in 1927; etc.).

If you stop working before you have enough credits to qualify for benefits, your credits will remain on your Social Security record. If you return to work later on, you can add more credits so that you qualify. No retirement benefits can be paid until you have the required number of credits.

If you’re like most people, you will earn many more credits than you need to qualify for Social Security. These extra credits do not increase your Social Security benefit. However, the income you earn while working will increase your benefit, as you will learn in the next section.

How Much Will Your Retirement Benefit Be?
Your benefit amount is based on your earnings averaged over most of your working career. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. If you have some years of no earnings or low earnings, your benefit amount may be lower than if you had worked steadily.

Your benefit amount also is affected by your age at the time you start receiving benefits. If you start your retirement benefits at age 62 (the earliest possible retirement age) your benefit will be lower than if you waited until a later age. (See Early Retirement and Delayed Retirement.)

Here’ s An Important Point: Each year, about three months before your birthday, you receive a Social Security Statement that provides you a record of your earnings, estimates of your Social Security benefits for early retirement, full retirement and retirement at age 70. It also provides an estimate of the disability benefits you could receive if you become severely disabled before you’re eligible for full retirement, as well as estimates of the amount of benefits paid to your spouse and other eligible family members due to your retirement, disability or death. The Social Security Statement can be a valuable tool in helping you plan for a secure financial future in your retirement.

Full Retirement Age
The usual retirement age for people retiring now is age 65. Social Security calls this "full retirement age," and the benefit amount that is payable is considered the full retirement benefit.

Because of longer life expectancies, the Social Security law was changed in 1983 to increase the full retirement age in gradual steps until it reaches age 67. This change starts in the year 2003, and if affects people born in 1938 and later.

Look at the table "Age To Receive Full Social Security Benefits" to find your full retirement age.

Early Retirement
You can start your Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but the benefit amount you receive will be less than your full retirement benefit.

If you take early retirement, your benefits will be permanently reduced based on the number of months you will receive checks before you reach full retirement age. If your full retirement age is 65, the reduction for starting your Social Security at age 62 is about 20 percent; at age 63, it is about 13-1/3 percent; and at age 64, it is about 6-2/3 percent.

Age To Receive Full Social Security Benefits

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age

1937 or earlier



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


If your full retirement age is older than 65 (that is, you were born after 1937), you still will be able to take your retirement benefits at age 62, but the reduction in your benefit amount will be greater than it is for people retiring now.

Here’s how it works. If your full retirement age is 67, the reduction for starting your benefits at 62 is about 30 percent; at age 63, it’s about 25 percent; at age 64, about 20 percent; at age 65, about 13-1/3 percent; and at age 66, about 6-2/3 percent.

As a general rule, early retirement will give you about the same total Social Security benefits over your lifetime, but in smaller amounts to take into account the longer period you will receive them.

Some people stop working before they reach age 62. In that case, it’s important to remember that during years with no earnings, you miss the opportunity to increase your benefit amount by replacing lower earnings years with higher earnings years.

Here’ s An Important Point: Sometimes poor health forces people to retire early. If you are unable to continue working because of poor health, you should consider applying for Social Security disability benefits. The amount of the disability benefit is the same as a full, unreduced retirement benefit. If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, those benefits will be converted to retirement benefits. For more information, call us to ask for a copy of the booklet, Disability Benefits (Publication No. 05-10029).

Delayed Retirement
Not everyone retires at full retirement age. You may decide to continue working full time beyond that time. In that case, you can increase your Social Security benefit in two ways.

Each additional year you work adds another year of earnings to your Social Security record. Higher lifetime earnings may result in higher benefits when you retire.
In addition, your benefit will be increased by a certain percentage if you choose to delay receiving retirement benefits. These increases will be added in automatically from the time you reach your full retirement age until you start taking your benefits, or you reach age 70. The percentage varies depending on your year of birth. See the chart below for the increase that will apply to you.
For example, if you were born in 1943 or later, we will add 8 percent per year (2/3 of 1 percent per month) to your benefit for each year you delay signing up for Social Security beyond your full retirement age.

Increases For Delayed Retirement

Year of Birth

Yearly Rate of Increase





















1943 or later


Here’ s An Important Point: If you decide to delay your retirement, be sure to sign up for Medicare at age 65. In some circumstances, medical insurance costs more if you delay applying for it.

Choosing Your Retirement Date
If you plan to start your retirement benefits after age 62, it is a good idea to contact Social Security in advance to see which month is best to claim benefits. In some cases, your choice of a retirement month could mean additional benefits for you and your family.

It may be to your advantage to have your Social Security benefits start in January, even if you don’t plan to retire until later in the year. Depending on your earnings and your benefit amount, it may be possible for you to start collecting benefits even though you continue to work. Under current rules, many people can receive the most benefits possible with an application that is effective in January.

If you are not working, or your annual earnings are under the earnings limits explained on Page 12, or you plan to start collecting your Social Security when you turn 62, you should apply for benefits three months before the date you want your benefits to start.

Because the rules are complicated, we urge you to discuss your plans with a Social Security claims representative in the year before the year you plan to retire.

Retirement Benefits For Widow(er)s
Widow(er)s can begin receiving benefits at age 60 or age 50 if disabled. If you are receiving widows or widowers (including divorced widows or widowers) benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefits —assuming you’re eligible and your retirement rate is higher than your widow(er)’s rate—as early as age 62. In many cases, a widow(er) can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate at full retirement age. The rules vary depending on the situation, so you should talk to a Social Security representative about the options available to you.

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