What Is the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Program?

The federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program is the official name for Social Security in the United States. The OASDI tax noted on your paycheck is to fund this comprehensive federal benefits program that provides benefits to retirees and disabled people— and to their spouses, children, and survivors. The goal of the program is to partially replace income that is lost due to old age, death of a spouse or qualifying ex-spouse, or disability.

Key Takeaways

  • The federal OASDI program is the official name for Social Security.
  • OASDI taxes known as FICA payroll taxes fund the program.
  • The amount of an individual’s monthly payment is based on his or her salary during working years.

Payments to qualifying persons are funded through OASDI taxes, which are payroll taxes collected by the government that are known as FICA taxes (short for Federal Insurance Contributions Act). These revenues are kept in two trust funds:

These trust funds pay out the benefits and invest the remainder of the revenue they collect. The program was ushered in through the Social Security Act, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14, 1935, when the U.S. economy was in the depths of the Great Depression.

OASDI tax revenues are kept in two trust funds—one for retirement and one for disability—which pay out benefits to qualifying individuals and their children and survivors.

The OASDI program provides payments to people who meet certain criteria. For old-age payments, money is paid to qualifying persons starting as early as age 62. Full retirement age depends on birthdate, and is 67 for everyone born in 1960 or later. Qualifying persons who wait until age 70 (but no later) to begin collecting benefits can collect higher benefits due to delayed retirement credits. Payments are calculated based upon their wages earned while they were of working age. Survivors payments are made to surviving spouses or eligible children of deceased workers, as well as eligible children of retired workers. Disability payments are made to eligible persons who are no longer able to participate in substantially gainful activity and who meet additional criteria.

To qualify for old-age benefits, a worker must be fully insured. A worker can become fully insured by accumulating credits (also called quarters) of coverage. Credits/quarters are accumulated based on covered wages earned for a particular period. In 2019 one quarter of coverage is awarded to a worker for every $1,360 earned. The dollar amount is indexed every few years for inflation. A worker can earn up to four credits/quarters of coverage per year, and 40 credits are needed to qualify for benefits.


The average monthly Social Security benefit in 2019.

Understanding the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Program

The U.S. Social Security program is the largest such system in the world and is also the biggest expenditure in the federal budget, projected to cost $1.102 trillion in 2020. In 2019 “nearly nine out of 10 individuals age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits,” according to the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The program has grown massively over the decades, along with the U.S. population and economy. In 1940 about 222,000 people received an average monthly benefit of $22.60. In 2019 that number had increased to nearly 64 million Social Security recipients, who got an average monthly benefit of $1,461.