By Rusty Gloor, National Social Security Advisor at the AMAC Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Association of Mature American Citizens
Dear Rusty: I’m 60 years of age and wonder if I will have any Social Security retirement benefits. After all, I did purchase them. Signed: Uncertain
Dear Uncertain: Your eligibility for Social Security benefits depends upon your lifetime earnings history from work, from which Social Security FICA taxes were withheld. If you have worked, contributed to SS while working, and have earned at least 40 “quarters” of credit, you will be entitled to Social Security benefits. You can earn up to four credits each year by earning a specific amount of money, which means you must have worked for about 10 years contributing to Social Security in order to be eligible for Social Security benefits. For 2022, you will get 4 credits if you earn at least $6040 (the amount needed per credit varies by year). The amount of benefit you will get depends upon your average monthly earnings (adjusted for inflation) over the highest-earning 35 years of your lifetime. The higher your annual earnings (from which FICA tax was withheld), the more your SS benefit will be. But you must have worked, earned and contributed to SS for at least 35 years to get your maximum benefit. SS always uses 35 years of earnings to compute your benefit and if you have fewer, they will put $0 earnings in some years to make it 35. They will use the monthly average of those 35 years to determine your primary benefit (known as your “Primary Insurance Amount” or “PIA” which is what you get at your full retirement age (FRA).
You cannot collect your personal SS retirement benefit until you are at least 62 years old, but if you claim at that age your benefit will be permanently reduced by 30%. You can only get your full SS benefit by waiting until your full retirement age (age 67 for you) to claim your Social Security. Claiming any earlier means a smaller benefit, but you can also delay longer and earn Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) up to age 70, when your maximum benefit would be 24% more than it would be at your FRA. You have an 8 year window to claim your Social Security, and when you claim within that window determines how much of your primary SS benefit you will get.
If you claim before your FRA and you continue to work, Social Security places a limit on how much you can earn before they take away some of your benefits. For example, someone who claims at age 63 in 2022 would have an annual earnings limit of $19,560, and if that were exceeded SS would take away benefits equal to $1 for every $2 over the limit (a monthly limit may be imposed if you claim mid-year). The earnings limit applies until FRA is reached, after which there is no longer a limit to how much can be earned.
The easiest way to determine your eligibility for Social Security benefits and how much that benefit would be at different ages is to obtain a Statement of Estimated Benefits from the Social Security Administration. You can request that by calling SS at 1.800.772.1213, but you can also get it yourself by creating your personal “my Social Security” online account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Once you have created your personal online account you can see your lifetime record of earnings and download your Statement of Estimated Benefits to understand whether you are entitled to Social Security benefits and, if so, how much your benefit will be if claimed at various ages.
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at email@example.com.