The Social Security Administration (SSA) is an agency of the federal government that offers four main types of benefits through the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Program. These are retirement benefits, disability benefits, benefits for dependents, and benefits for survivors. Each of these programs has certain criteria that a claimant must meet to establish their eligibility for benefits.
If you have worked for at least 10 years in the private sector (not in the government), you likely will be eligible for retirement benefits if you retire when you are 62 or older. A worker will reach their full retirement age at 66 or 67, depending on the year in which they were born. You can receive a greater amount of benefits if you wait until your full retirement age to claim them. Moreover, the amount of your benefits will be increased for each year that you wait to start receiving them until you turn 70.
This does not necessarily mean that you should wait until you turn 70 to start receiving your benefits. Each situation should be evaluated according to the claimant’s personal needs. Even the highest possible amount of benefits will represent a steep drop from your earnings. You should bear this fact in mind when you decide whether to retire.
These benefits are available for people who are not yet at full retirement age but have accumulated sufficient work credits and are disabled under the rules of the Social Security Administration. This usually involves proving that your disability meets the criteria of an entry in the SSA Listing of Impairments, which is a manual that covers many physical and psychological conditions. If your disability does not meet the criteria of an entry in the Listing, you will need to show that the disability prevents you from working in any job. The condition must have lasted or be expected to last for at least 12 months, or be expected to result in your death. The amount of your disability benefits would be comparable to the amount of full retirement benefits for which you would be eligible otherwise.
Benefits for Dependents and Survivors
The spouse and children of someone who qualifies for retirement or disability benefits may be able to get dependent benefits. The children would need to be either minors or disabled. Also, the surviving spouse and minor or disabled children of someone who was eligible for retirement or disability benefits can receive benefits that are based on the earnings of the deceased worker.
Filing a Claim for Benefits
The Social Security Administration allows you to file an initial claim online, by phone, or in person. The closest major city to where you live should have a Social Security office. Submitting a claim for retirement benefits will involve providing your Social Security number, your birth certificate, your most recent W-2, and any military discharge papers if you are a veteran. A claim for disability benefits may involve submitting substantial medical documents.
You can file a claim three months before you will become eligible, which will allow the agency to process your claim and start sending you benefits on time. This is important because you cannot get benefits retroactively for a period in which you were eligible but had not yet applied.
Three months before you turn 65, you should submit your claim for Medicare benefits. These are available to anyone who is eligible for Social Security benefits. Even if you wait until you are older than 65 to claim Social Security benefits, you should claim Medicare coverage when you are 65. There is no advantage to waiting to make this claim.