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Social Security Retirement Benefits

Eligibility

Workers who have worked in "covered employment" for a sufficient number of years are eligible for retirement benefits when they retire at age 62. This usually means you must have worked a total of at least ten years of work at a nongovernmental job.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) keeps a database of your earnings record and work credits, tracking both through your Social Security number. You can see this information on your Social Security Statement, which is available to everyone age 25 and over. The Social Security Statement also gives you an estimate of the benefits you'll receive at retirement age, which can play an important role in your financial planning.

Up until 2011, the SSA mailed annual Social Security Statements to everyone age 25 and over (who was not already receiving Social Security benefits). Now you need to go online to get a copy of your statement or view it online, unless you are over age 60 and not yet collecting Social Security benefits. Go to www.ssa.gov/mystatement/ and open an account with Social Security to view your statement.

When Can I Start Collecting?

The Social Security Administration used to consider 65 to be full retirement age for the retirement benefit. Benefits amounts were calculated on the assumption that most workers will stop working full time and will claim retirement benefits when they reach age 65. 

Now that people are generally living longer, Social Security's rules about what is considered full retirement age have changed. Age 65 is still considered full retirement age for anyone born before 1938. But full retirement age gradually increases from age 65 to 67 for people born in 1938 or later. For anyone born after 1960, the full retirement age is 67.

You may choose to begin receiving retirement benefits at any time after you reach age 62. However, there are incentives to wait until your "full retirement age," which is between 65 and 67, depending on the year of your birth. The amount of your benefits will be permanently reduced by a certain percentage if you begin claiming them before you reach full retirement age.

Retirement Age for Those Born After 1937

1938

65 years, 2 months

1939

65 years, 4 months

1940

65 years, 6 months

1941

65 years, 8 months

1942

65 years, 10 months

1943 – 1954

66 years

1955

66 years, 2 months

1957

66 years, 6 months

1958

66 years, 8 months

1959

66 years, 10 months

1960 or later

67 years

Benefit Amount Calculation

The amount of benefits to which you are entitled under any Social Security program is not related to financial need (except for SSI -- Supplemental Security Income), but is based on the income you have earned through years of working, through jobs and self-employment. Social Security keeps a record of these earnings over your working lifetime and pays benefits based on the average amount earned.

The calculations are complicated. The amount of any benefit is determined by a formula based on the average of your yearly reported earnings since you began working.

Last Review and Update: Apr 24, 2013