Here are a few important items about Social Security retirement benefits and how to apply for them.
When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn "credits" toward Social Security benefits. If you were born in 1929 or later, you need 40 credits (10 years of work) to qualify for retirement benefits. We determine the amount of your benefit by both how long you work and how much you earn. The higher your lifetime earnings, the higher your monthly benefits. If there were some years when you did not work or had low earnings, your benefit amount may be lower than if you had worked steadily or earned more.
Your age at the time you start receiving Social Security retirement makes a difference in your benefit amount. The full retirement age (the age at which 100 percent of retirement benefits are payable) has been gradually rising from age 65 to age 67. You can take "early retirement" as early as age 62, but if you start collecting benefits before you reach your full retirement age, your monthly payment will be reduced. You can find out what your full retirement age is by referring to the convenient chart at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/retirechart.htm
Just as you can choose an early retirement and get a reduced payment, you also can choose to keep working beyond your full retirement age to take advantage of a larger payment. Generally, your benefit will increase automatically by eight percent each year from the time you reach your full retirement age until you start receiving your benefits or until you reach age 70.
The decision of when to retire is personal and depends on a number of factors. To help you weigh the factors, we suggest you read our online fact sheet, When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits, available at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10147.html.
You may want to consider your options by using our Retirement Estimator to get instant, personalized estimates of future benefits. You can plug in different retirement ages and scenarios to help you make a more informed retirement decision. Try it out at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
You also can set up an online my Social Security account. You can use your my Social Security account to obtain a copy of your Social Security Statement to check your earnings record and see future estimates of the retirement, disability, and survivor benefits you and your family may receive. Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
When you decide to retire, the easiest and most convenient way to do it is right from the comfort of your home or office computer. Go to www.socialsecurity.gov where you can apply for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes. In most cases, there are no forms to sign or documents to send; once you submit your electronic application, that's it! You're done!
Be sure to have your bank account information handy so you can receive your payments electronically. Electronic payment of federal benefits is now mandatory, with few exceptions. Spring is a great time to turn a new leaf. Spring into retirement now! Learn more by reading our publication, Retirement Benefits, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10035.html.
(Reynolds is the Social Security manager in Steubenville.)