Social Security - II. Eligibility and benefit: Retirement

Retirement benefits paid to Social Security recipients depend on how much money they earned over their working careers and at what age they retire.

1. Full retirement age - Workers born before 1938 were eligible for their full Social Security benefit upon reaching their 65th birthday. In 2003, the age at which full benefits are payable began to increase gradually, with full retirement age dependent on year of birth. (See chart below)
    • Born 1960 or later - Full retirement age is 67.
    • Medicare eligibility - Eligibility for Medicare benefits is not affected by the increasing full retirement age for Social Security. Individuals should still apply for Medicare benefits within three months of their 65th birthday. A delay could lead to higher premiums for Medicare medical insurance and prescription drug coverage.
Year of birth Full retirement age
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943-1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 or later 67
2. Early retirement
Workers may start receiving benefits as early as age 62, but their benefits are reduced permanently if they begin collecting them before full retirement age.
    • Benefit reduction = One half of 1% for each month before full retirement age.
    • Example - If a worker's full retirement age is 65 and 10 months and signs up to collect Social Security at 62, their benefit is reduced 24.2%.
3. Delayed retirement
Workers who delay collecting benefits beyond full retirement age will receive an increased benefit up until age 70. The benefit increase does not apply beyond age 70 even if an individual continues to delay collecting benefits.
    • Benefit increase = The level of additional benefit received depends upon the age of the recipient. (See chart below.)
Year of Birth* Yearly Rate of Increase Monthly Rate of Increase
1933-1934 5.50% 11/24 of 1%
1935-1936 6.00% 1/2 of 1%
1937-1938 6.50% 13/24 of 1%
1939-1940 7.00% 7/12 of 1%
1941-1942 7.50% 5/8 of 1%
1943 or later 8.00% 2/3 of 1%
    • Example - A worker whose full retirement age is 65 and 6 months will earn a benefit increase of 7% for each year between full retirement age and age 70 that benefit collection is delayed.
4. Family benefits - Family members eligible for retirement benefits include a spouse:
    • If he or she is 62 or older; or
    • At any age if he or she is caring for covered spouse's child (the child must be under 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits on covered individual's record.
Benefits also are paid to unmarried children if they are:
    • Younger than 18;
    • Between 18 and 19, but in elementary or secondary school as a full-time students; or
    • Age 18 or older and severely disabled (the disability must have started prior to age 22).
5. Divorced spouses - An ex-spouse may qualify for retirement benefits based on earnings record of former spouse even if the covered former spouse is not receiving retirement benefits.

For the ex-spouse to qualify:
    • The marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years;
    • The divorce must be at least two years old;
    • Be at least 62;
    • Be unmarried;
    • Not be eligible for an equal or higher benefit based on his or her own work or someone else's work.
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