Social security retirement benefits: a primer

There are no laws out there requiring private employers to offer their employees retirement plans. In fact, only about half of the workers in this country’s private workforce are employed by companies that have some sort of pension plan. Thankfully there is the old standby: Social Security, the government’s income system for people who are 55 and over.

Social security retirement benefits

Social Security retirement benefits were created by the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935. It was not meant to be a retirement or pension program as much as insurance against extreme poverty in the later years of life. Although Social Security benefits checks for retirees have increased in recent years, they still do not provide enough income for most people to maintain their pre-retirement lifestyles. Consequently, most people do rely on some form of private pension to enhance their incomes after they retire.

Who is qualified?

As with other Social Security benefits, you will be eligible for retirement benefits only if you have accumulated enough work credits. Work credits are measured in quarters in which you earned more than the required amount of money.  The number of work credits that you will need is dependent on your age when you apply.

Dependents benefits

Certain dependents of retired workers are eligible for monthly benefits if the worker amassed enough work credits to qualify for benefits. Dependents who may qualify for these derivative benefits are:

  • Spouses age 62 or older
  • A spouse under 62 who cares for the worker’s young or disabled children
  • A divorced spouse age 62 or older, if the marriage lasted at least ten years and if at least two years have passed since the divorce
  • Unmarried children under the age of 18 who are severely disabled
  • Grandchildren under the care and custody of the worker

Timing your retirement

You can start your social security benefits when you are 62 or older. However, if you start your benefits early, the benefit amount you receive may be reduced. When you start early, Social Security reduces your benefits based on the number of months before what Social Security deems full retirement age. Full retirement age is 65, but if you were born after 1938, full retirement age gradually increases and for some the full retirement age is 66 or 67.

Is Social Security in jeopardy?

Although this program has provided financial support to millions of Americans in their later years, and when they have faced difficult times, the future of Social Security is in doubt. The Social Security Administration itself has posted warnings on their website stating that projections show that by 2040 it is possible that benefits will have to be severely reduced because the number of young workers will not be great enough to support the number of older citizens.


Know the ins and outs of your social security benefits so that you can take full advantage of them when the time comes. And also consider seeking a private pension to supplement your income, because the future of social security is not secure at all. [1]

[1] Berkley, Benjamin H., Win Your Social Security Disability Case, (Sphinx Legal, 2008)