Qualifying For Retirement Benefits
When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn “credits” toward Social Security benefits.
The number of credits you need to get retirement benefits depends on when you were born. If you were born in 1929 or later, you need 40 credits (10 years of work).
If you stop working before you have enough credits to qualify for benefits, the credits will remain on your Social Security record. If you return to work later on, you can add more credits so that you qualify. We cannot pay any retirement benefits until you have the required number of credits.
Your Retirement Benefit
Your benefit payment is based on how much you earned during your working career. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. If there were some years when you did not work or had low earnings, your benefit amount may be lower than if you had worked steadily.
Your benefit payment also is affected by the age at which you decide to retire. If you retire at age 62 (the earliest possible retirement age for Social Security), your benefit will be lower than if you wait until later to retire. This is explained in more detail below.
If you are a worker age 60 or older who is not receiving Social Security benefits, you receive a Social Security Statement every year which summarizes your earnings. Workers turning age 25 will receive a one-time only Statement in the mail. If you are a worker age 18 or older, you can get a Statement online. It can be a valuable tool to help you plan a secure financial future. It provides you with a record of your earnings and gives estimates of what your Social Security benefits would be at different retirement ages. It also gives an estimate of the disability benefits you could receive if you become severely disabled before retirement, as well as estimates of the survivors benefits Social Security would provide your spouse and eligible family members when you die. To create an account online to review your Statement, visit Get Your Social Security Statement Online.
You Can Get Retirement Benefit Estimates
You can use the online Retirement Estimator to get immediate and personalized retirement benefit estimates to help you plan for your retirement. The online Retirement Estimator is a convenient, secure and quick financial planning tool, because it eliminates the need to manually key in years of earnings information. The estimator also will let you create “what if” scenarios. You can, for example, change your “stop work” dates or expected future earnings to create and compare different retirement options.
For more information, ask for Online Retirement Estimator (Publication No. 05-10510) or How To Use The Online Retirement Estimator or visit the Retirement Estimator.
Full Retirement Age
If you were born in 1944 or earlier, you are already eligible for your full Social Security benefit. If you were born from 1943 to 1960, the age at which full retirement benefits are payable increases gradually to age 67. The following chart lists the full full retirement age by year of birth.
You can get Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, you will receive a reduced benefit if you retire before your full retirement age. For example, if you retire at age 62, your benefit would be about 25 percent lower than what it would be if you waited until you reach full retirement age.
Some people stop working before age 62. But if they do, the years with no earnings will probably mean a lower Social Security benefit when they retire.
Sometimes health problems force people to retire early. If you cannot work because of health problems, 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, ask for Disability Benefits.
You may choose to keep working even beyond your full retirement age. If you do, you can increase your future Social Security benefits in two ways.
Each additional year you work adds another year of earnings to your Social Security record. Higher lifetime earnings may mean higher benefits when you retire.
Also, your benefit will increase automatically by a certain percentage from the time you reach your full retirement age until you start receiving your benefits or until you reach age 70. The percentage varies depending on your year of birth. For example, if you were born in 1943 or later, we will add 8 percent per year to your benefit for each year that you delay signing up for Social Security beyond your full retirement age.
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. Other information about Medicare is in “A word about Medicare.”
Deciding When To Retire
Choosing when to retire is an important but personal decision. Regardless of the age you choose to retire, it is a good idea to contact Social Security in advance to learn the available options and make an informed decision. In some cases, your choice of a retirement month could mean higher benefit payments for you and your family.
In deciding when to retire, it is important to remember that financial experts say you will need 70-80 percent of your preretirement income to have a comfortable retirement. Since Social Security replaces only about 40 percent of preretirement income for the average worker, it is important to have pensions, savings and investments.
You should apply for benefits about three months before the date you want your benefits to start. If you are not quite ready to retire, but are thinking about doing so in the near future, you may want to use our convenient and informative Retirement Planner
Retirement Benefits For Widows And Widowers
Widows and widowers can begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 60, or at age 50 if they are disabled. And they can take a reduced benefit on one record and later switch to a full benefit on the other record. For example, a woman could take a reduced widow’s benefit at 60 or 62 and then switch to her full (100 percent) retirement benefit when she reaches 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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Complete Social Security information can be found at the official U.S. government Social Security site