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What are the Different Social Security Benefits?

By Adam Hill
Updated May 23, 2024
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In the United States, the program known as Social Security encompasses the federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program. The largest component of social security benefits is that of retirement benefits. Benefits are also paid to those who are disabled, survivors of workers who have passed away, and to the dependents of beneficiaries.

Throughout a worker’s career, the Social Security Administration (SSA) keeps track of his earnings. The amount of Social Security benefits that a worker is entitled to at retirement depends on the record of his earnings, as well as the age at which he chooses to retire. A worker’s retirement benefits are determined based on a quantity known as the primary insurance amount (PIA), which is the average of the 35 highest years of a worker’s earnings. A percentage of the PIA is computed and indexed for inflation to give the amount of monthly benefits that a retired worker is eligible for. The earliest age at which retirement benefits are available is 62.

If a person cannot work because of a physical or mental condition that is either terminal or long-lasting, then he may be eligible for another type of Social Security benefits known as Social Security Disability. For someone desiring to receive this type of benefits, it is best to apply for them as soon as possible, since it usually takes months to process an application. People, including children, who have little income or resources may also be eligible for a form of disability payment through the Supplemental Security Income program, also administered by the SSA.

When a worker dies, his family may qualify for Social Security benefits based on his work, known as survivors’ benefits. In this case, “family” may include dependent children, a spouse, or even the parents of the worker if they were dependent on him for at least half their support. Also, if you are divorced, your ex-spouse may receive Social Security benefits when you die, if he or she meets several requirements, including having been your spouse for at least ten years.

Many economists and demographers have predicted that the way in which Social Security benefits are collected and distributed will eventually have to change. This is because, as the population of the United States ages as a whole, and life expectancies increase, the day will almost certainly come when more money is paid out as benefits than is collected in taxes from working citizens. Eventually, the SSA’s trust funds will be exhausted if this is not remedied. These issues will need to somehow be resolved, if Social Security is to be preserved.

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Discussion Comments

By Heavanet — On Mar 22, 2014

@spotiche5- You made a good point, because there are work requirements that must be met in order to receive Social Security benefits. Some people may not know whether or not they have met these requirements, and the local Social Security Administration office can help determine this information. For example, someone who only worked part-time or sporadically may not have 40 credit hours, which would mean he would need to work until he earned all of these credit hours to receive retirement benefits.

By Spotiche5 — On Mar 22, 2014

@talentryto- There is a Social Security Administration Office in most every county in the United States. Because help is so readily available, it is important for future beneficiaries not to wait until they are almost at retirement age to find out about their benefits. Once they know the amount they may qualify for, they will be able to plan their working years, retirement dates, and retirement goals accordingly.

By Talentryto — On Mar 21, 2014

Figuring out Social Security benefits can be confusing, because each individual's situation is different. Staff members at the Social Security Department can help beneficiaries get the information they need to find out what they may qualify to receive.

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