Social Security

Understanding the Benefits

Understanding the Benefits (2018 SSA Publication)  

<Key Points>

> To get a Social Security number or a replacement card, you must prove your U.S. citizenship or immigration status, age, and identity. We don’t need proof of your U.S. citizenship and age for a replacement card if they’re already in our records. We only accept certain documents as proof of U.S. citizenship. These include your U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport, Certificate of Naturalization, or Certificate of Citizenship. If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, we must see your immigration document proving work authorization. If you don’t have work authorization, different rules apply.

> The current Social Security system works like this: when you work, you pay taxes into Social Security.  The money you pay in taxes isn’t held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. We use your taxes to pay people who are getting benefits right now. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust funds, not a personal account with your name on it.

> You pay Social Security taxes based on your earnings, up to a certain amount. In 2018, that amount is $128,400.  You pay Medicare taxes on all of your wages or net earnings from self-employment.


If You Work for Someone Else Social Security Tax Medicare Tax
You pay 6.2% 1.45%
Your employer pays 6.2% 1.45%
If You're Self-Employed
You pay 12.4% 2.9%


> As you work and pay taxes, you earn Social Security “credits.” In 2018, you earn one credit for each $1,320 in earnings — up to a maximum of four credits a year. The amount of money needed to earn one credit usually goes up every year.  Most people need 40 credits (10 years of work) to qualify for benefits.

> If you were born from 1943 to 1960, the age at which full retirement benefits are payable increases gradually to age 67. In 2018, if your birth year is 1951 or earlier, you are already eligible for your full Social Security benefit. Use the following chart to find out your full retirement age.


Year of Birth Full Retirement Age
1943-1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 or later 67


> NOTE: Although the full retirement age is rising, you should still apply for Medicare benefits three months before your 65th birthday. If you wait longer, your Medicare medical insurance (Part B) and prescription drug coverage (Part D) may cost you more money.

> If you choose to delay receiving benefits beyond your full retirement age, we’ll increase your benefit a certain percentage, depending on the year of your birth. We’ll add the increase automatically each month from the time you reach full retirement age, until you start taking benefits or reach age 70, whichever comes first.

> You may start receiving benefits as early as age 62. We reduce your benefits if you start early by about one-half of one percent for each month you start receiving benefits before your full retirement age. For example, if your full retirement age is 66 and four months, and you sign up for Social Security when you’re 62, you would only get 73.3 percent of your full benefit.  NOTE: The reduction will be greater in future years as the full retirement age increases.

> You can continue to work and still receive retirement benefits. Your earnings in (or after) the month you reach full retirement age won’t reduce your Social Security benefits. In fact, working beyond full retirement age can increase your benefits. We’ll have to reduce your benefits, however, if your earnings exceed certain limits for the months before you reach your full retirement age.

> If you work, but start receiving benefits before full retirement age, we deduct one dollar in benefits for each two dollars in earnings you have above the annual limit. In 2018, the limit is $17,040.  Once you reach full retirement age, you can keep working, and we won’t reduce your Social Security benefit, no matter how much you earn.

> You must receive your Social Security payments electronically. One of the ways you can choose to receive your benefits is through direct deposit to your account at a financial institution.  If you don’t have an account with a financial institution, or if you prefer to receive your benefits on a prepaid debit card, you can sign up for the Direct Express® card program. With Direct Express®, payments go straight to the card account. Another payment choice you can consider is an electronic transfer account. This low-cost federally insured account lets you enjoy the security, and convenience of automatic payments.


Windfall Elimination Provision and Foreign Pensions

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is a provision in United States law that changes the way your U.S. Social Security benefits are calculated. WEP can reduce your U.S. retirement or disability benefits if you receive a pension based on work and you did not pay U.S. Social Security taxes on those earnings.

This site contains a WEP Screening Tool for foreign pensions. By answering a few questions in this tool, you can learn if WEP will reduce your U.S. Social Security benefit.

  Windfall Elimination Provision for Foreign Pensions Screening Tool


The Social Security Office of Retirement Policy’s Program Explainer: Windfall Elimination Provision

BACKGROUND: The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is a formula used to adjust Social Security worker benefits for people who receive “non-covered pensions” and qualify for Social Security benefits based on other Social Security-covered earnings.  A non-covered pension is a pension paid by an employer that does not withhold Social Security taxes from your salary, typically, state and local governments or non-U.S. employers.

HOW THE WEP WORKS: Social Security benefits are calculated by applying three different percentages to a person's lifetime average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) and adding them up to obtain the worker's monthly benefit (primary insurance amount (PIA)) at full retirement age.

(Extensive details are available in this Program Explainers page; click on this panel's title to go to that site.)


Most Asked Questions

The SSA website provides answers to frequently asked questions, such as:

  • How do I apply for a new or replacement Social Security number card?
  • How do I change or correct my name on my Social Security number card?
  • How can I get a Social Security Statement that shows a record of my earnings and an estimate of my future benefits?
  • How can I change my address?
  • How do I schedule, reschedule, or cancel an appointment?
  • How long will it take to get a Social Security card?
  • What is the eligibility for Social Security spouse’s benefits and my own retirement benefits?
  • How do I get a replacement Medicare card?
  • What happens if I work and get Social Security retirement benefits?
  • What is a “my Social Security” online account and how do I get one?



This SSA website page provides access to Social Security Forms as downloadable documents or as online links.  The site indicates the following:

All forms are FREE. Not all forms are listed. If you can't find the form you need, or you need help completing a form, please call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or contact your local Social Security office and we will help you. If you download, print and complete a paper form, please mail or take it to your local Social Security office or the office that requested it from you.


Online Services

This SSA website page provides links to a number of services available online, such as:

  • Request a replacement Social Security card
  • Apply for Social Security benefits
  • Get your Social Security Statement
  • Appeal a decision
  • Find out if you qualify for benefits
  • Get a letter saying you don't receive benefits
  • Block electronic access to your information



Social Security – Service Around the World

Click this panel's title to take you to the SSA’s Office of Earnings & International Operations (OEIO) home page. The purpose of this site is to assist Social Security customers who are outside the U.S. or planning to leave the U.S.

OEIO is responsible for administering the Social Security program outside the U.S. and for the implementation of the benefit provisions of international agreements. Since SSA has no offices outside the U.S., OEIO is assisted by the Department of State's embassies and consulates throughout the world.

Foreign Countries Served by Social Security Administration

If you live outside of the United States, there are a number of Social Security Field Offices and American embassies and consulates who have specially trained personnel to assist you in seeking Social Security services. You can access information to contact our Social Security and consular staff by locating your country in the link below: 

Country and Region Office Contact Information


Create personal mySocialSecurity account

This SSA page gives access to the mySocialSecurity account, allowing one to to CREATE (and finish setting up) an Account or SIGN IN.

With your free, personal mySocialSecurity account, you can receive personalized estimates of future benefits based on your real earnings, see your latest Statement, and review your earnings history. It even makes it easy to request a replacement Social Security Card or check the status of an application, all from the comfort of your home or office!


Contact Social Security

This SSA website page provides information on the various ways to contact their office (Call Us, Email Us, Find an Office, Write to Us), plus information for interpretation services in a multitude of languages.


Social Security Office Locator (by ZIP code)

Find your closest Social Security Administration office by using the Locator tool on their website with the link provided above.


Retirement Estimator

This SSA website page provides a Retirement Estimator tool.  The tool gives estimates on your benefit amount based on your actual Social Security earnings record.  However, they caution that the results are just estimates as they can't provide the actual benefit amount until you apply for benefits.  Reasons as to why the actual benefit amount may end up differing from the estimate are provided.


Benefits Planner: Calculators

The SSA website offers a variety of calculators are available to help you plan for the future and for what you may need now.

Benefits for Spouses Calculator

Detailed Calculator

Early or Late Retirement Calculator

Earnings Test Calculator

GPO Calculator

Life Expectancy Calculator

Online Calculator

Retiremet Age Calculator

Retirement Estimator

Quick Calculator

Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) Calculator


CNN/Money: Ultimate guide to retirement

How does Social Security work?  The program is based on contributions that workers make into the system. While you're employed, you pay into Social Security; you receive benefits later on, when it's your turn to retire. Contributions take the form of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes that are withheld from most paychecks.


Medicare benefits are commonly considered part of Social Security benefits, although technically Medicare is a separate program. Medicare contributions are withheld from your paycheck in much the same way as your Social Security contributions; FICA taxes support Social Security and Medicare.


Am I eligible for Social Security benefits?  Yes, so long as you've worked for at least 10 years (for those born in 1929 or later). Ten years is the minimum amount of time required to earn the mandatory 40 credits.  Even if you have accumulated your 40 credits, however, you can't start getting payouts until you're 62 or older.


Social Security (United States)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the United States, Social Security is the commonly used term for the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program and is administered by the Social Security Administration. The original Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, and the current version of the Act, as amended, encompasses several social welfare and social insurance programs.


Social Security is funded primarily through payroll taxes called Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax (FICA) or Self Employed Contributions Act Tax (SECA). Tax deposits are collected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and are formally entrusted to the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund, the two Social Security Trust Funds. With a few exceptions, all salaried income, up to an amount specifically determined by law (see tax rate table below), is subject to the Social Security payroll tax. All income over said amount is not taxed. In 2018, the maximum amount of taxable earnings was $128,400.


With few exceptions, all legal residents working in the United States now have an individual Social Security number. Indeed, nearly all working (and many non-working) residents since Social Security's 1935 inception have had a Social Security number because it is requested by a wide range of businesses.