Social Security is a social welfare program administrated by the U.S. government available to people who work for a qualified employer and pay Social Security taxes. Ninety-six percent of U.S. workers are enrolled in Social Security and are entitled to retirement income benefits. Many others -- including some unemployed and unemployable, survivors of those enrolled in the program and some people with disabilities -- may receive retirement benefits, disability benefits and other monetary payments. Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for partial or full Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has guidelines that determine eligibility for full benefits.
Eighty-five percent of every Social Security tax dollar goes to a trust fund that pays retirement benefits for retirees and eligible family members. The remaining 15 percent pays Social Security benefits for people with disabilities. Once you reach retirement age or experience a qualifying disability, you are eligible to receive benefits.
The amount of your monthly benefit is determined by your age when you apply and how much money you earned during your working career. During your working career you earn Social Security credits. These credits are applied toward your Social Security benefits. You are eligible for benefits based on the year you were born and the number of work credits earned during your career.
You are eligible for full Social Security benefits once you reach full retirement age. Full retirement age is based on the year you were born. For beneficiaries born in 1937 or earlier, full retirement age is 65. Beneficiaries born in 1938 or later, full retirement age increases gradually until it reaches 67 for people born after 1959. For example, if you were born in 1938, full retirement age is 65 years and two months. If you were born in 1940, your full retirement age is 65 years and six months. For beneficiaries born in 1955, full retirement age is 66 years and two months.
Family Member Benefits
Family members are eligible for Social Security benefits under a qualified worker's benefits. Benefits can be paid to a husband or wife, unmarried children and an ex-spouse of a Social Security recipient. Full benefits for family members are equal to 50 percent of the worker's benefits. Full benefits are based on age for a current or ex-spouse, and based on age and other factors for children. For example, a current spouse can receive full benefits if he or she is of full retirement age, determined by her birth year. Children younger than age 18 are eligible for full benefits. Children older than 18 can receive full benefits if they suffer from a severe disability.
If you are between age 62 and full retirement age, you are eligible to receive Social Security benefits at a reduced rate. Benefits gradually increase when you get closer to full retirement age. For example, if you are eligible for full benefits at age 65, at age 62 you are eligible for 80 percent of your monthly benefits. At age 63 you get 86.7 percent of your monthly benefits. At age 64 you get 93.3 percent of your monthly benefits and so on. If you received reduced benefits, spousal and family member benefits are reduced as well.