Guide to Social Security Retirement Benefits


Understanding your main benefit under this program.

This part of our web site explains key facts about the retirement benefit provided by the social security program. We do this to provide a better general understanding of this benefit, and to help you make informed decisions about your benefit, such as when to stop working and when to begin taking benefits. These choices are important because they can affect the amount of retirement benefits you receive for the rest of your life.

This is not by any means intended to be a complete guide to social security. The overall program is huge, and hugely complicated. It provides other benefits (disability and survivor benefits), and there are many rules that apply to special situations. The Social Security Handbook, offered by the Social Security Administration as a "readable, easy to understand resource" about the program, is over 700 pages long. For now, our limited goal here is to answer a few of the key questions you may have about the core benefit provided by the social security program, making it easier for you to understand and work with this information. We plan to expand this section before long to add other topics, including coverage of the ongoing social security reform debate. Meanwhile, if you need information on other aspects of the program, you'll find much more information at Social Security Online, the official website of the Social Security Administration. But stay right here if you want clear, helpful guidance on the topics below.

Overview of Social Security Retirement Benefits
A brief outline of how the social security retirement benefit works, and the issues discussed in this guide.

Covered Wages and Social Security Tax
This page briefly explains how the social security tax applies and includes a table of covered wages.

Full Retirement Age
A chart on this page shows when you reach full retirement age (also called normal retirement age) for purposes of the social security system.

Understanding the Social Security Benefit Calculation
You aren't likely to go through all the number crunching needed to do the actual calculation, but it can be useful to get a better understanding of how the calculation works.

Social Security Change When You Work an Additional Year
If you're considering whether or not to continue working (or return to work), one factor might be the effect this would have on your social security retirement benefit.

Choosing When to Start Receiving Social Security Retirement Benefits
You can start your benefits any time between age 62 and age 70, receiving a larger benefit if you delay.

Earnings Test for Early Retirees
If you decide to start receiving retirement benefits before full retirement age, your benefit can be reduced on account of earnings you have during that period.

Social Security Reduction for Early Start
Your retirement benefit is permanently reduced if you decide to start receiving it before reaching full retirement age.

Social Security Increase for Late Start
You can receive an increased benefit if you delay the start of payments past your full retirement age.

Understanding Life Expectancy
Your life expectancy changes as you grow older, so you may have more time left than you think.