Four basic types of Social Security benefits are paid based on the record of your earnings: retirement, disability, dependents, and survivors benefits. These benefits all fall under the OASDI program. OASDI stands for Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI).
Many people think of retirement benefits when they think of Social Security (SS) benefits. But the Social Security Administration (SSA) actually offers four types of benefits to those who have paid into the Social Security trust fund over a number of years, or to their family members.
Workers who have worked in "covered employment" for a sufficient number of years are eligible for retirement benefits when they retire. Usually, you must work a total of at least ten years, either at a nongovernmental job, where you pay FICA taxes, or for yourself, paying self-employment taxes.
You may choose to begin receiving retirement benefits at any time after you reach age 62. But Social Security offers incentives to wait until your "full retirement age," which is between 66 and 67, depending on the year of your birth.
If you begin claiming benefits before you reach full retirement age, Social Security will reduce the amount of your benefits by a certain percentage. As a further incentive to keep working, the amount of your benefits will be slightly, but permanently, increased for each year you wait until age 70 to put in your claim.
But sometimes it doesn't make sense to delay collecting your benefits (see When to Claim Social Security Benefits?). Also, no matter how long you wait to begin collecting benefits, the amount you receive will be only a portion of what you were earning.
If you haven't reached full retirement age but you've worked enough to meet the requirements (usually five to ten years, depending on your age), you could be eligible for benefits from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.
To receive benefits, you must have a physical or mental impairment that prevents you from working full-time for at least a year. If Social Security considers you disabled under its medical guidelines, you can receive benefits roughly equal to what your full retirement benefits would be.
If you're the spouse of a retired or disabled worker who qualifies for Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you may be entitled to benefits based on the worker's earnings record. This is true whether or not you actually depend on your spouse for your support.
Spousal benefits are available for those who reach age 62 or are taking care of the worker's child age 16 or under. (Read about spousal dependents benefits.)
Minor children, and older children who became disabled before age 22, can also collect dependent benefits based on the worker's earnings record. (Read about child dependents benefits.)
If you're the surviving spouse of a worker who qualified for Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you and your minor or disabled children can be entitled to benefits based on your deceased spouse's earnings record.
As a widow or widower, you can begin to collect benefits once you reach age 60, or age 50 if you have a disability that prevents you from working. Survivors benefits are also available to minor children and older children who became disabled before age 22.
For more information, read our article on survivors benefits.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges holding that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all states. Since then, Social Security has granted eligibility for Social Security benefits to same-sex spouses who are married. For more information, read our article on how the law changed regarding Social Security benefits for same-sex spouses.
The average benefit for a person who retires at age 66 is $1,827 per month (in 2023)—a figure that changes based on the total amount of all benefits paid and the number of people receiving them. Whatever the amount of your retirement benefit, you will receive an automatic cost of living increase on January 1 of most years. This increase is tied to the rise in the Consumer Price Index, which measures the cost of basic goods and services.
Even if you have not worked for many years and you did not make much money in the years you did work, check your earnings record. You may be surprised to find you have quite a few quarters of credit from years gone by.
If you want to estimate the amount of Social Security benefits you are entitled to receive after you have retired from your job, you can view your Social Security Statement online by going to www.ssa.gov/mystatement/ (you'll need to create an account first).
Most Social Security retirement benefits are not considered taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service, although you do have to pay income tax on any interest you earn from saving your benefits. But, if your adjusted gross annual income—from a part-time job, for example—plus one-half of your year's Social Security benefits adds up to $25,000 or more, then you must pay income tax on one-half of your Social Security benefits.
In January of each year, you will receive a statement from the Social Security Administration showing the amount of benefits you received in the previous year and an IRS form explaining how to report this income, if necessary.
Updated February 13, 2023