Social Security

Most people think Social Security is only for retired people. Many retired people get Social Security, but many others get it, too. They get it because they are:

  • disabled;
  • a dependent of someone who gets Social Security; or
  • a widow, widower, or child of someone who has died.

So, you might get Social Security at any age.

Social Security is not meant to be your only source of income. It is to help along with your pension, insurance, and savings.

You must work and pay taxes into Social Security to get payments out of it. (Of course, some people get payments as a child or widow on another person's Social Security record.) You pay Social Security taxes during your working years. Then you and your family receive monthly payments when you retire or are disabled. Or, your children and spouse get payments when you die.

As you work and pay taxes, you earn Social Security credits. In 1997, you got one credit for each $670 you earned.

The money needed to earn one credit goes up every year. You can only earn four credits in one year.

The number of credits you need to get Social Security depends on your age and the type of benefit for which you qualify.

Most people need 40 credits to be able to get benefits. That is 10 years of work. Younger people need fewer credits to get disability benefits or for their family members to get survivors benefits if they die.

The amount of your Social Security payment is based mostly on your earnings. It also depends on your date of birth and the type of benefit. You can get a list of the number of credits you have and how much money you have earned each year. You will also learn how much you might get from Social Security. Call 1-800-772-1213. Ask them to send you the form to get a Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement. Fill out the form and send it back.

If you are divorced, you may get Social Security payments on your ex-spouse's work. Were you married at least 10 years? Are you at least 62 years old? Then you may get payments if your ex-spouse dies or is disabled.

You can apply for benefits at any Social Security office. Social Security offices are found all across the country. The easiest way to file a claim is to call their toll-free number for an appointment. Call 1-800-772-1213.

Prepared by Karen Chan, Extension Educator, Consumer and Family Economics. Adapted from Understanding Social Security, published by the Social Security Administration.

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