Social Security isn’t just for retired people. The program also pays benefits to the disabled, widows and widowers, children, stepchildren, divorced spouses and others. Below is an explanation of the benefits Social Security provides.

Retired Workers

Of the 58 million people receiving benefits, about 41 million, or 71%, receive retirement benefits. To qualify for benefits, you must first meet the age requirements and have paid into Social Security. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, you can begin receiving full benefits at age 66. If your birthday is between 1955 and 1959, two months are added for each additional year until people who were born in 1960 or later receive full benefits at 67 years of age. Beyond full retirement age, your check will rise each year you delay receiving benefits up to age 70. (Read the full chart here.)

You can receive partial benefits at age 62. Because you stopped paying into Social Security four or five years before your full retirement age, your benefits are lower – around 25% less.

In addition to meeting the age requirement, you have to earn 40 credits if you were born in 1929 or later. You can earn a maximum of four credits each year. Credits are based on earnings. The number may change each year but in 2014, $1,200 in earnings equals one credit. To get the maximum amount of credits, you had to make $4,800 in a single year. If you earn more than 40 credits, and most people will, you won’t receive additional benefits.

When you retire, you will receive about $1,294 on average, based on "your average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most."

Your spouse may file for benefits if he or she is at least 62 years old – or is any age but caring for your child, if the child is under 16 or is receiving Social Security disability benefits. The benefit can be as much as half of your benefits amount.

Spouses who are also eligible for retirement benefits on their own will receive the higher of the two benefit amounts for which they qualify. Use the calculator on this page to see if spousal benefits are your best course of action.

Children under the age of 18, high school students under 19 or adult disabled children (if they became disabled before age 22) may also receive benefits.

Survivor Benefits

Social Security can also serve as a life insurance policy. According to its website, the survivor benefits from Social Security are as good or better than private insurance policies. Spouses of deceased workers are entitled to benefits as early as age 60, but it’s important to note that they never receive two Social Security checks. Once widows or widowers reach retirement age, they will either receive a check based on their individual financial situations or the deceased’s; sometimes they can receive widow/widower benefits first, then switch to their own (higher) benefits when they reach full retirement age or beyond.

Children under the age of 18, high school students under 19 and adult disabled children (if they became disabled before age 22) may also receive benefits.

Stepchildren, grandchildren, step-grandchildren and adopted children may qualify as well.

The deceased’s spouse or children may qualify for a one-time death payment of $255 if they meet certain requirements. Survivors may apply up to two years after the date of death.

If the deceased provided at least 50% support for his or her parents, the parents may qualify if they’re age 62 or older.

Divorced spouses who are 60 or older may qualify for benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. There are, however, other rules that may affect eligibility.

According to Social Security, the rules for survivor benefits are highly individualized and complicated. Widows and widowers should talk to a caseworker to determine if it makes financial sense to take survivor benefits if they qualify, and for determination of the monthly amount.

Disability Benefits

If you have a qualifying disability, you can receive Social Security benefits at any age. First you have to pass a “work test.” If you become disabled before you turn 24, you need 1.5 years of work during the three-year period ending when your disability began. As you get older, these requirements change. You can read more about the work test here.

After submitting the required documents, the Social Security office will determine if you qualify for disability benefits. Social Security considers a variety of factors to determine if your condition qualifies you for disability benefits. View the full details here.

Spouses of disabled workers can receive benefits if they have children under 16 or disabled children in their care, or if they’re at least 62 years old. The same rules apply to divorced spouses.

Children under the age of 18, high school students under 19 and adult disabled children under 22 might also qualify for disability benefits.

How to Apply

You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits online by clicking here. Apply for disability benefits here. After you complete the application, a Social Security caseworker will contact you to help determine eligibility.

The Bottom Line

Each case is different and even if you do qualify for benefits, sometimes it’s not in your financial best interest to receive payments. Don’t try to figure it out on your own. Speak to a Social Security caseworker, then a qualified financial advisor, to determine your next step.

Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    Yes, You Can Manage Your Own Retirement!

    Discover how to get started planning for and managing your retirement by making simple, deliberate steps towards financial health.
  2. Retirement

    3 Ways to Get Social Security Benefits

    Social Security isn't just for retirement. Learn about all three benefits provided by the Social Security Administration: retirement, survivor and disability.
  3. Personal Finance

    Understanding The Social Security Website

    Go to for all things Social Security. To comply with the Plain Writing Act of 2010, its information was rewritten to make it easier to understand.
  4. Personal Finance

    Who Pays Your Social Security Benefits?

    The short answer is, current earners. Taxes on current wages pay the Social Security benefits of retirees, the disabled, children and other beneficiaries.
  5. Retirement

    Early Bird Doesn't Get The Social Security Worm

    Here’s an eye-opening statistic: 73% of Americans who are collecting Social Security (SS) today are receiving less than their full benefit. That’s right — they may not be getting their just deserts. That’s ...
  6. Budgeting

    The Impact Of Your Starting Age On Social Security

    Retiring at 62 sounds nice, but it could affect the amount of social security you receive.
  7. Taxes

    How To Make Social Security Work

    What's going to happen to Social Security by the time you retire? What can be done to help it?
  8. Retirement

    5 Tricks For Stretching Your Social Security Benefits

    Here are five clever tips for stretching your Social Security dollar as far as possible.
  9. Retirement

    What to Do When Your Doctor Doesn't Take Medicare

    Stay and pay the full fee? Cut and run to another provider? Five ways to cope when Medicare threatens to break up you and your medico.
  10. Retirement

    The Cities Where the Ultra-Rich Retire in Florida

    Understand why the Florida communities of Miami Beach, Palm Beach and Key West serve as magnets for the ultra-rich retirees who descend on the state.
  1. What are the maximum Social Security disability benefits?

    The maximum Social Security disability benefit amount for a single eligible person in 2015 is $1,165 per month, but you can ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are the Social Security disability benefits for children with ADHD?

    Parents may receive Social Security disability benefits for children with ADHD. The percentage of children with ADHD who ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Can a divorced woman collect Social Security from her ex-husband?

    While a number of conditions must be met, a divorced woman is able to collect Social Security benefits through her ex-husband. ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Are Social Security benefits affected by marriage?

    The amount of Social Security benefit you are eligible to collect upon retirement is not affected by marriage. Your benefit ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How does the Social Security Administration determine the Substantial Gainful Activity ...

    A disabled individual is eligible to receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) if he earns ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are Social Security Credits for and how can I earn them?

    To determine who is eligible for various Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a system ... Read Full Answer >>
  7. How do I know what Social Security benefits I am eligible for?

    Depending on your age, wage history and disability status, you may be eligible to receive a variety of Social Security benefits. ... Read Full Answer >>
  8. Are Social Security survivor benefits for children considered taxable income?

    Social Security survivor benefits for children are considered taxable income only for the children who are entitled to receive ... Read Full Answer >>
  9. What's the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental ...

    Disabled persons can receive payments through two programs: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  2. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
  3. Revenue

    The amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period, including discounts and deductions for returned ...
  4. Normal Profit

    An economic condition occurring when the difference between a firm’s total revenue and total cost is equal to zero.
  5. Operating Cost

    Expenses associated with the maintenance and administration of a business on a day-to-day basis.
  6. Cost Of Funds

    The interest rate paid by financial institutions for the funds that they deploy in their business. The cost of funds is one ...
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!