Social security programs are typically created to provide monetary assistance to individuals with inadequate or no income. In the United States, Social Security refers to a federal insurance program that provides benefits to retired persons and those who are unemployed or disabled. The Social Security program encompasses retirement income, disability income, Medicare, Medicaid, and death and survivorship benefits. Every year, the government pays out hundreds of billions of dollars through various Social Security programs.
The specific eligibility requirements for Social Security vary depending on the type of benefits an individual is seeking. A person’s age and the number of years that he or she has worked will be a factor. For all Social Security programs except Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the worker must have worked for a number of years and earned enough of what Social Security refers to as “work credits” by the time the individual claims retirement benefits, becomes disabled, or dies.
Work credits are units that count toward entitlement for Social Security benefits. They are based on earnings over the course of employment. A person can earn up to four credits each year. Typically, one credit is awarded per quarter of earning as long as the person earns a certain amount. This amount is set by the government and changes from year to year. Ten years of working (40 credits) is generally sufficient to qualify for Social Security.
The amount of benefits that an individual will receive under Social Security programs is not related to financial need, except for SSI. Instead, Social Security benefits are based on the wages a person has earned while working over a number of years. The Social Security program keeps track of how much a person has earned over his or her lifetime and pays benefits accordingly.
Social Security considers 65 years of age to be the full retirement age. Full retirement age refers to the age at which a person qualifies for full retirement benefits. However, as life expectancies increase, the retirement age is gradually increasing as well. If a person was born before 1938, 65 years of age is considered the retirement age, whereas for a person born after 1960, the retirement age is 67.
It is important to note that while a person may qualify for more than one type of Social Security benefit, he or she can collect only one at a time. For example, you may qualify for both retirement and disability at the same time. In such an instance, you could collect whichever benefit is higher, but not both.
If employees who have paid into the Social Security program die before they are able to claim their benefits, their surviving family members may apply for Social Security benefits. The U.S. government allows benefits for survivors and certain dependents, such as widows or widowers, unmarried children under the age of 18, dependent parents, and children who were disabled prior to reaching the age of 22. A dependent is defined as a family member who may be eligible for benefits based on a worker’s earning record with the Social Security Administration.