Answers to the most often asked questions about retirement Social Security

by the Editor, SeniorInsider | Jun 02, 2011

Many seniors who are headed toward retirement Social Security have lots of questions about how—and when—to apply. The following answers may help you determine when you can realistically expect to retire and how well you will be able to maintain your senior home.

History of Retirement Social Security


Following the Great Depression, poverty among seniors grew by leaps and bounds, and by 1934 over 50% of elderly Americans were unable to support themselves. In the years between 1900 and 1930, the average American lifespan increased by nearly 10 years—the most rapid increase recorded in history.  About 30 states were offering some sort of benefits to seniors by 1935, however, the “benefits” averaged between 50 and 75 cents per day.  

This meant that the senior population grew to nearly eight million by 1935.  The retirement Social Security program was established in 1935 in order to provide retirement income to specific workers, but was later expanded to cover most of America’s workforce. Finally, by around 1950, there were several amendments made to retirement Social Security, ensuring that benefits were more generous and covered most seniors who had worked during their lifetime.

When am I Eligible to Receive Retirement Social Security?


As the laws stand now, if you were born before 1938, then you can begin retirement Social Security benefits at age 65, while if you were born after 1960, you must wait until you turn 67. Those who were born after 1938, but prior to 1942 fall under a graduating scale which increases two months per year for the purposes of determining eligibility age.  Those born between 1943 and 1954 must wait until they are 66 to receive retirement Social Security, and those born between 1955 and 1960 operate under a graduating scale which increases two months for each year.

How is Retirement Social Security Determined?


Your eligibility for retirement Social Security will be determined by the number of credits you have earned during the years you worked. Generally speaking, you are required to earn 40 credits to qualify for retirement Social Security benefits, and as the law stood in 2010, you were allowed one credit for every $1,120 earned, with a maximum of four credits each year. The maximum retirement Social Security check is $2,346 per month, but in reality most people earn much, much, less, with the average monthly check being $1,007, and many seniors making even less than this.

What if I am Still Employed—Can I Receive Retirement Social Security?


If you wait to begin getting a Social Security check until you have reached your particular full retirement age, you can continue to work without sacrificing your Social Security benefits. If, however, you began receiving benefits prior to full retirement age, you can earn approximately $15,000 per year; if you earn more than this, for every $2 in earnings you bring home which is over the $15,000, Social Security will withhold $1 from your benefit check until you reach the full age of retirement.

Retirement Social Security for Spouses


Assuming your spouse worked enough quarters to qualify for benefits from Social Security, then you both qualify for benefits. However, if your spouse either did not work enough quarters or earned only a small amount, qualifying him or her for benefits which are less than half of your benefits, then the spouse benefit will be increased to an amount that is at least half you’re your benefit amount. If your spouse dies after reaching full retirement age, then you will receive 100% of their benefit amount. If your spouse had not reached full retirement age, your benefits will be prorated.

Is the Retirement Social Security Program in Trouble?


Theoretically, the retirement Social Security program is a “pay-as-you-go” program, meaning money is paid in by those currently working taxpayers and paid out to seniors who have retired. The problem lies in the fact that the ratio of current workers to current retirees has continued to drop—fewer people paying in, more people withdrawing benefits. People are currently living considerably longer than they did in the 1930’s as well, making the benefits being paid out increasing.

Most of us believe there is a Social Security trust fund which protects our money, however, the reality is that tax income is deposited and either invested in T-bonds or exchanged for a sort of government IOU, then goes into the general fund becoming virtually indistinguishable from other sources of money. It is likely that we will begin to see some large-scale policy changes in order to make the retirement Social Security system sustainable for the long haul.

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