Understanding Social Security Benefits, Type, and Eligibility

Social Security benefits are an important financial resource that provides monthly payments to eligible Americans. Find out if you qualify and what to expect from your benefits.
Infographic of a person looking at a social security card

Since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the program into law in 1935, social security benefits have provided foundational income to millions of Americans. These benefits are a much-needed financial resource for retired and disabled individuals. Today, many people count on Social Security to provide at least part of their income, with around 97% of older Americans receiving some form of benefits.

What Is Social Security?

Social security is a popular assistance program funded and administered by the federal government. It is mostly known for providing monthly cash benefits that increase with the cost of living. However, it is much more than that. Ongoing contributions to Social Security through payroll taxes entitle workers to insurance in the event of severe disability, as well as life insurance.  

Benefits through Social Security are meant to supplement your income instead of providing for all of your needs. The average benefit amount in 2022 is around $1,614 per month. It’s important that you plan for the future by managing your finances smartly and setting aside money for your retirement years as early as possible.

Types of Social Security Benefits

Infographic of calculator for article about social security benefits

There are several different types of Social Security benefits. Below, you can find out more information about each one.


Social Security benefits for retirees are the most commonly received. You can begin collecting as young as age 62, but your benefit amount is reduced if you apply early. You must wait until your full retirement age (from 65 to 67, depending on your birth date) to get access to your maximum benefits. If you wait and apply for benefits up to age 70, you could qualify for a higher amount. 

You must have a work history of ten-plus years where you contributed to Social Security by paying taxes. You can start to collect your benefits while you continue to work, but your employment status can affect the amount you receive. 


Americans that can’t work due to a physical or mental disability can apply for and receive monthly Social Security if their disability lasts a year or more. Applicants should get documentation of the disability and prognosis from a medical professional to submit with their application. 


Married or formerly-married Americans aged 62 or older can claim Social Security benefits through a spouse or ex-spouse. It’s important to weigh your options as you can only collect one monthly payment using your work history information or your spouse’s. Typically, if you apply for spousal benefits, you receive up to 50% of their calculated benefit amount. 


In some cases, spouses, children, and parents can collect benefits from a deceased beneficiary. Eligible spouses are aged 60 or 50 and disabled. Underage and disabled children are also eligible to receive benefits based on the work history or disability status of the deceased. 


Medicare is government-run healthcare that is available to all Americans age 65 and older. Younger individuals who are disabled or have certain health issues can receive benefits sooner. 

Supplemental Security Income

This program is different from traditional Social Security. SSI benefits are for disabled adults and children with low income who need additional assistance. People aged 65 and older who have limited resources and income are also eligible for SSI. The benefit amount is modest, meant to supplement other income sources, and is not supposed to provide full financial support. 

Potential Eligibility for Increased Benefits

While your benefit amount is occasionally adjusted to reflect a cost-of-living increase, there are other circumstances and life changes that may lead to an increase. 

You can contact social security for more information to find out if you are due an increase if any of these situations apply to you:

  • The death of a spouse or ex-spouse could make you eligible for a higher survivor benefit.
  • You have reached age 65, or full retirement age (Now age 67 for those born in 1960 and after), and receive Medicare.
  • Your adult child, who provided at least half of your support, is deceased.
  • Your benefits are based on your spouse’s work history, but your information entitles you to a higher retirement benefit.
  • You are disabled and receive benefits based on your parent’s work but have your own work history.
  • You are currently unmarried but were formerly married for at least 10 years.
  • If your child is under 16 or disabled before 22, they could receive child benefits through your spouse.
  • Children under 18 or disabled can potentially receive benefits based on your work history if you receive retirement or disability benefits.
  • Prior military service.
  • Declining income or loss of financial resources could entitle you to Supplemental Security Income for seniors and disabled individuals with limited income.

Remember to report changes as soon as possible, so your benefit amount accurately reflects your current situation. Failure to report changes that decrease your benefit can result in an overpayment. You can use a benefits calculator to estimate your benefit amount.

How to Apply for Social Security Benefits

There are a few ways to apply for benefits:

  • Submit an online application.
  • Call 1-800-772-1213.
  • Schedule an appointment at your local office.

Social security representatives are available at the above number from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday if you have questions, need to report a change, or require assistance. You can also find many resources and answers to common questions on the Social Security website.

If you applied for disability benefits and were denied, you can also submit an appeal online. Make the application process simple by gathering your personal information before you apply. The Social Security Administration has a checklist detailing what you need to apply.

It’s essential that you understand how Social Security benefits actually work so you have an idea of what you can collect and when. Knowing your options and your status helps you access the resources you need and make plans for your finances accordingly. If you believe that you are eligible, submit an application now. 

You might also be interested in: Your Guide To Understanding Social Security

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