Social Security • August 3rd, 2020

Ways to Get Social Security Benefits

Stephanie Faris

Key Takeaways
  • A large percentage of the taxes taken out of your paycheck go to fund the Social Security program.
  • Unless you were born before 1960, you’ll usually have to wait until you’re 67 to get full retirement benefits.
  • There are instances when you can receive benefits early, including if you suffer from an eligible disability or your spouse dies.

You work hard in the hopes that someday you’ll be able to retire and enjoy your golden years. As long as you earn enough taxable income to qualify and work a prescribed amount of years, you’ll collect Social Security benefits after you retire.

But there are instances when you can receive Social Security payments early, including retiring at the age of 62 with reduced benefits. We’ll take a look at a few ways you can qualify for Social Security income.

Ways to Get Social Security Retirement Benefits

You probably already know that part of your paycheck goes toward ensuring you’ll have Social Security benefits when you retire. But you don’t have to wait until you’re no longer working to receive benefits. Here are some of the ways you can access your benefits.

Social Security Retirement Benefits

If you were born after the year 1959, you’ll have to wait until you reach the age of 67 to start receiving the full payout. However, you can receive a reduced payment starting at the age of 62. At that age, you’ll receive only 70 percent of your full retirement payment. That amount gradually increases until you reach full retirement age.

Social Security Survivor Benefits

If your spouse dies, you may be eligible for survivor benefits. This could include a one-time payment of $225, plus monthly benefits if you qualify. To qualify for monthly benefits, you’ll need to be age 60 or older (or 50 or older if you’re disabled). If you haven’t remarried and you’re caring for the deceased’s underage or disabled child, you may also qualify for survivor benefits.

Social Security Disability Benefits

Once you’ve paid into Social Security, you and your dependents may be eligible for disability benefits. You’ll need to apply and wait for approval, and there are strict requirements. If you or a dependent has a medical condition expected to last at least a year or result in death, you could be approved. You can apply for disability benefits on the SSA website.

How Social Security Benefits Work

From the time you start working, you’re likely paying into the Social Security program. The line on your paycheck that reads “FICA” is where you’ll find this tax. FICA, short for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, takes 6.2 percent of your income for Social Security. It also includes an additional 1.45 percent for Medicare, which will help you with your healthcare costs in retirement.

But that money isn’t put into an account and reserved for you. 85 cents of every dollar of that Social Security tax goes into a trust fund to take care of today’s retirees. The other 15 percent goes to disabled recipients. When you start receiving payments, they’ll likely be funded by current workers at that time.

How Do You Qualify?

To qualify to collect Social Security, you’ll need to either have reached the minimum age or have an eligible disability. But you don’t automatically qualify. First, you’ll have to pay enough into the system.

Social Security contributions are tracked as credits. You’ll need at least 40 credits to qualify to receive Social Security once you reach the minimum age or become disabled. Currently, you achieve one credit for every $1,410 in taxable income you earn each year.

When Can You Collect Social Security?

Unless you were born before 1960, you can start receiving full benefits at the age of 67. If you were born prior to that, you can start earning full benefits at age 66.

If you’re open to permanently reduced benefits, though, you can start receiving payments starting at age 62. Here’s how much your benefit will be reduced if you retire early.

AgeYour benefits are reduced toYour spouse's benefits are reduced to
6270 perecent32.5 percent
6375 percent35 percent
6480 percent37.5 percent
6586.7 percent41.7 percent
6693.3 percent45.8 percent

What is (COLA) Cost-of-Living and Does It Increase?

Prices won’t start increasing just because you’re retired. For that reason, the SSA implements regular cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). This bumps up your monthly payment to account for inflation.

The last COLA was announced in October 2019 and was 1.6 percent. The next COLA is expected in October 2020. COLAs aren’t guaranteed, though. The index is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), a measure of the price paid for goods and services by urban wage earners and clerical workers.

Under What Circumstances Can Your Spouse or Children Receive Benefits?

If you’re married or have children, you aren’t the only one entitled to Social Security benefits. Once your spouse reaches the minimum age of 62, a payment based on your Social Security contributions may be available. Your spouse will need to apply, and, if his or her Social Security payout will be lower than yours, will be elevated to your level. It’s important to note that your spouse’s Social Security payments will in no way affect your own.

If you’re eligible for benefits and you have a child under the age of 18 living with you, that child may also be eligible for payments. If your children are aged 18 or older, they may still be eligible if they suffer from a qualifying disability. Children who are full-time students remain eligible until they reach 20 years of age.

Final Thoughts

Social Security will be a great supplement to your retirement savings once you’re ready to stop working. But it’s important to not rely on it exclusively, as the monthly payment will be a fraction of your current salary. For best results, gather your income information and meet with a financial advisor who can guide you on how much money you’ll need to save so that you can retire comfortably.

Author

Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a writer for a credit card processing service and has written about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on Money Under 30, The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, E-commerce Insiders, and GoBankingRates.