FAQs: Social Security Retirement

At QR, we assist clients seeking Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits. The Social Security Act also provides retirement benefits. While an attorney is not needed to obtain retirement benefits, here are some questions we often answer.

Who can receive retirement benefits?

Retirement benefits are generally available to individuals 62 years of age or older who have paid enough F.I.C.A. (payroll) taxes to become "fully insured". Fully insured is defined differently in different circumstances, but is most often earned by paying F.I.C.A. taxes for ten years (40 quarters of coverage).

When should I retire?

That answer varies with each person's situation. You can elect to take your retirement benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. If you opt to receive SS retirement benefits at age 62, your benefit amount (computed using a complex formula) will be reduced by a percentage based on the year of your birth. Your benefit will not be reduced if you begin receiving your benefits at or after your full retirement age (often age 66). If you work until age 70 before receiving SS retirement benefits, your benefit amount will be increased. The website for the Social Security Administration, www.socialsecurity.gov, provides information about your full retirement age and the reduction in the amount of your retirement benefits if you retire at age 62.

If I elect to take reduced retirement benefits, will my benefits be increased when I reach my full retirement age?

No. Once you begin receiving SS retirement benefits, your choice (reduced retirement at age 62, benefits at full retirement age, or increased benefits at age 70) cannot be changed for the rest of your life. The amount of your monthly benefit will be raised only by the annual cost-of-living increase.

When can I get Medicare?

Unless you are disabled, you will not be eligible for Medicare until age 65, regardless of when you begin receiving your SS retirement benefits. If you elect to take your reduced retirement benefits at age 62, you will not receive Medicare until you reach age 65.

Can I work after I begin collecting SS retirement benefits at age 62?

Yes, but not without consequences. If you collect retirement benefits at age 62 and keep working until your full retirement age, your retirement benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above the retirement earnings exemption ($13,560 for 2008). When you reach full retirement age, the earnings limit no longer applies.

What kind of retirement benefits can my spouse receive?

Your spouse can receive benefits based on his or her own wages, but may also receive a percentage of benefits based on your retirement account. Retirement benefits will be paid on your spouse's earnings first, and then an additional amount will be paid to make up the difference based on your earnings record.

Can I collect retirement benefits on my deceased spouse's account?

As early as age 60, you can begin to collect retirement benefits based on the wages of your deceased spouse. If you have an employment history or continue to work past age 60, when you retire you will first collect retirement benefits based on your earnings. You may be entitled to an additional amount based on your spouse's account.

Can I collect retirement benefits on my ex-spouse's account?

Yes, provided you were married more than 10 years, your ex-spouse has retired, you are 60 years of age, and you have not remarried. This is the case even if your ex-spouse has remarried and the current spouse is also collecting benefits on the account.

Where can I get additional information?

The free Social Security Publication No. 05-10035 can be obtained by calling 1-800-772-1213 or visiting www.socialsecurity.gov. The website also has a calculator for future retirement benefits.