Social Security 101

Answers to common questions including when to file

When you think of how you’ll fund your retirement, Social Security probably comes to mind. This government program pays benefits to qualified retirees and their families and can supplement other income sources, such as a pension and employer-sponsored retirement plan. The program’s rules are complex, but understanding the basics can help you maximize your benefit. Here are answers to common questions.

What does Social Security provide?

When you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, you get:

  • Monthly income for life; the amount varies depending on the age at which you file and your lifetime earnings
  • A yearly cost-of-living adjustment to help make up for inflation
  • Tax advantages; at least 15% of your benefit will be nontaxable but it could be more depending on your filing status, additional earnings and the state where you live1
  • Survivor benefits; a surviving widow or widower can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60 1

Will Social Security provide all the income I need in retirement?

Most likely not. Social Security might replace only about 40% of your pre-retirement income.2 You might need to replace about 80% of your pre-retirement income to maintain your standard of living.3

How is Social Security calculated?

Your benefit is based on your lifetime Social Security earnings – income on which you paid Social Security taxes throughout your work life. The maximum amount you can receive is determined by the age at which you claim benefits.4 For a personal estimate of your Social Security retirement benefits, create a “my Social Security” account at my Social Security | SSA.

When can you file for Social Security?

You can start collecting Social Security as early as age 62 – but that could permanently reduce your benefits by up to 30%.1 The amount you receive increases each year that you wait to file between ages 62 and 70 (see “Delaying Social Security” chart). Key things to know:

  • If you file at your full retirement age, you receive 100% of your benefit; that age falls between 66 and 67 depending on your birth year (see eligibility chart)
  • Once you reach full retirement age, you’ll receive 8% more each year that you wait to file until age 70; if your full retirement age is 67, waiting could increase your monthly benefit by up to 24%

What is the best age to start receiving Social Security?

There is no one age that’s right for everyone. It’s important to consider the decision carefully, because it will affect your income throughout retirement. Think about factors such as:5

  • Your life expectancy
  • Whether you plan to work while receiving benefits
  • Whether you will have health insurance and what it may cost
  • Whether you have a current spouse who is eligible for Social Security; if so, you’ll want to consider when each of you should file to maximize your combined benefits
  • Whether you’re eligible for Social Security benefits through someone else, such as a deceased spouse or a surviving ex-spouse
  • Other income you may have

Regardless of when you plan to file for benefits, the Social Security Administration recommends applying 4 months before you want your benefits to begin.1

Eligibility for 100% of benefits

1943-1954 66
1955 66 + 2 months
1956 66 + 4 months
1957 66 + 6 months
1958 66 + 8 months
1959 66 + 10 months
1960-later 67
Delaying taking Social Security benefits from 67 to 70 can increase the monthly benefit by 24%
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1 “Retirement Benefits,” Social Security Administration (2022). EN-05-10035 - Retirement Benefits - January 2022 (
2 “Top Ten Facts About Social Security,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (March 4, 2022). Policy Basics: Top Ten Facts about Social Security | Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (
3 “Top 10 Ways to Prepare for Retirement,” Employee Benefits Security Administration, U.S. Department of Labor (September 2021). Top 10 Ways to Prepare for Retirement (
4 “What is the maximum Social Security retirement benefit payable?” (Jan. 3, 2023). KA-01897 · FAQ | SSA
5 “What Is The Best Age To Start Your Benefits?” Benefits Planner: Retirement | Important Things to Consider When Planning for Retirement | SSA