On August 14, 1935, U.S. President Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers a continuing income. Over the years, Social Security has evolved to pay four different types of benefits:

  • Retirement
  • Disability
  • Family
  • Survivors

Most American workers include Social Security as part of their retirement plans. As you work and pay Social Security (FICA) taxes, you earn “credits” toward Social Security retirement benefits. In general, you need 40 credits, or about 10 years of work, to be eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits. The amount of your benefit is based on how much you earned while working, and the age at which you begin receiving benefits.

The earliest you can start receiving Social Security retirement benefits is when you turn 62, but your monthly amount will be permanently reduced. Your full retirement age is the age at which you can start collecting full or unreduced benefits (the maximum payout), and it is based on the year in which you were born. The following table shows the full retirement age for various birth years:

Birth Year

Full Retirement Age

1937 or earlier



65 and 2 months


65 and 4 months


65 and 6 months


65 and 8 months


65 and 10 months




66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1960 and later


You will receive close to the same lifetime benefit whether you start receiving benefits at age 62, full retirement age, or age 70 if you live to the average life expectancy for someone your age. That’s because if you start early, you will receive lower monthly payments for a longer period of time, and if you delay benefits, you will receive higher monthly payments for a shorter period of time. The Social Security Administration web site has a Retirement Planner that gives detailed information about retirement benefits under current law. You can find information on your life expectancy, how your family members may qualify for benefits, and use benefit calculators to test different retirement ages or future earnings amount. Check it out at www.ssa.gov/retire2.

  1. Why is Social Security running out of money?

    On August 14, 1935, U.S. President Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act. Originally implemented to assist older ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Can my spouse and children collect my Social Security when I die?

    Social Security pays four different types of benefits: retirement, disability, family and survivor. Under survivor benefits, ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. When can catch-up contributions start?

    Most qualified retirement plans such as 401(k), 403(b) and SIMPLE 401(k) plans, as well as individual retirement accounts ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Are 401(k) contributions tax deductible?

    All contributions to qualified retirement plans such as 401(k)s reduce taxable income, which lowers the total taxes owed. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Are 401(k) rollovers taxable?

    401(k) rollovers are generally not taxable as long as the money goes into another qualifying plan, an individual retirement ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Are catch-up contributions included in the 415 limit?

    Unlike regular employee deferrals, catch-up contributions are not included in the 415 limit. While there is an annual limit ... Read Full Answer >>
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