Frequently Asked Social Security Benefit Questions

Almost 68 million Americans are expected to receive Social Security benefits this year through the government’s retirement, disability and survivors programs. And if you aren’t already receiving benefits, chances are good that you’ll qualify in the future. The Social Security Administration says more than 90% of U.S. workers are in jobs that participate in the program.

While Social Security is widely known and used, its details can be complex. “There’s like 2,000 different claiming strategies,” according to Chuck Czajka, certified Social Security claiming strategist and founder of Macro Money Concepts in Stuart, Florida.

Working with a Social Security planning expert can help you determine the right claiming strategy for your needs, but everyone should still know the basics of how benefits work, when you can claim them and how much you can get.

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about Social Security:

— How long can Social Security remain solvent?

— What is the Social Security retirement age?

— When can I apply for Social Security?

— How much Social Security will I get?

— What is the Social Security tax limit?

— What is the Social Security wage limit?

— What is the average Social Security benefit?

— What is the maximum Social Security benefit?

— How are spousal Social Security benefits determined?

— How do I get a new Social Security card?

— How does Social Security work?

— How do I qualify for Social Security disability?

— When will I receive my Social Security check?

How Long Can Social Security Remain Solvent?

This seems to be the top question on Americans’ minds, according to many retirement planners.

“Most people are being brainwashed by Wall Street and Main Street that their benefits are going to be cut,” Czajka says. He doesn’t believe that will happen, however, noting that it would throw the economy into chaos if older Americans saw their incomes drop significantly. “It’s not going to happen,” he says.

Still, the reality is that without changes to the program, the trust fund that supplements Social Security retirement benefits is expected to run dry by 2033 while the fund designated for disability benefits has until 2098. Combined, the funds will be depleted in 2035, although the Social Security Administration notes that the funds cannot be combined unless there is a change in the law.

“Even if that trust fund has zero in it, there’s still a good portion of those benefits that can be paid,” says Tim McGrath, a certified financial planner and managing partner of Chicago-based Riverpoint Wealth Management.

The retirement trust fund will be able to pay 79% of scheduled benefits after 2033, according to the 2024 Social Security trustees report. If the funds were combined, 83% of scheduled benefits could be paid after 2035.

To ensure the continued solvency of the Social Security program, commonly suggested changes have included increasing the retirement age and lifting the wage cap on Social Security taxes.

What Is the Social Security Retirement Age?

The Social Security retirement age is the age at which you can claim your full retirement benefits. While workers can begin receiving benefits as early as age 62, they will have a permanent reduction of up to 30% in their monthly payment amount.

Your full retirement age depends on your birth year:

Birth Year Full Retirement Age
1943-1954 66
1955 66 years and two months
1956 66 years and four months
1957 66 years and six months
1958 66 years and eight months
1959 66 years and 10 months
1960 or later 67

You don’t have to begin benefits at your full retirement age, though. If you delay the start of Social Security, you’ll receive an 8% increase in benefits for each year you wait after your full retirement age until age 70.

When Can I Apply for Social Security?

You can apply for Social Security benefits as early as age 61 years and nine months if you want to begin benefits at age 62. Otherwise, the Social Security Administration says the earliest you can submit an application is four months before you’d like benefits to begin. Be aware that your first check won’t arrive until the month after the one you select in your application.

“My advice is to collect as soon as you can,” says Steve Azoury, a chartered financial consultant and owner of Azoury Financial in Troy, Michigan. He’s not convinced that some retirees won’t see a reduction in benefits in the future. “Obviously, they are going to have to save the system, (but) I think the people with pensions and assets are the ones who are going to get cut.”

Not everyone agrees though. Czajka — who is 68 and plans to claim his benefits at 70 — says many retirees will find waiting to receive a higher benefit amount makes more financial sense in the long run.

Regardless of the timing, applications can be submitted on the Social Security Administration website, by calling 1-800-772-1213 or by visiting a local Social Security office.

How Much Social Security Will I Get?

Your Social Security benefits are based on your work history. While most people only need to work 10 years to qualify for benefits, the amount you receive is based upon your 35 highest-paid years. If you didn’t work 35 years, the Social Security Administration will add zeros to its formula for the years you didn’t work.

To determine how much you’ll receive, create a “my Social Security” account on the Social Security Administration website. Once you log in, you can review your work history and see how much you can expect to receive in retirement benefits or, if needed, disability benefits.

Many people are surprised when they see the numbers, according to Azoury. “The old impression is that (Social Security) is going to take care of you,” he says. In reality, it is hard for most people to live on Social Security alone. “It should be about a third of your retirement (income),” Azoury advises.

What Is the Social Security Tax Limit?

Social Security is funded through payroll taxes. Employees pay a 6.2% tax, which their employers match. Self-employed workers are responsible for paying the entire 12.4% tax themselves.

However, not all your earnings may be subject to Social Security taxes. In 2024, only earnings up to $168,600 are subject to these taxes. Known as the contribution and benefit base, this amount is adjusted each year.

Social Security taxes aren’t limited to your working years either. “Most people are not aware that Social Security (benefits) can be taxable,” McGrath says.

The government uses a person’s combined income to determine whether their Social Security benefits are taxable. Your combined income is your adjusted gross income plus any nontaxable interest you receive plus half of your Social Security benefits. Once a person’s combined income exceeds $25,000 for a single taxpayer or $32,000 for a married couple filing jointly, then up to 50% of their benefits become taxable.

“That’s not that much income for your typical retiree,” according to McGrath.

At incomes above $34,000 for single taxpayers and $44,000 for married couples filing jointly, 85% of a person’s Social Security may be subject to income tax.

[READ: What to Know About the Bill to Repeal Social Security Taxes]

What Is the Social Security Wage Limit?

If you choose to claim Social Security early but continue to work, you may see your benefit amount reduced as a result of your income.

In 2024, workers younger than their full retirement age can earn up to $22,320 without having their Social Security benefits penalized. After that, the government will deduct $1 in benefits for every $2 someone earns above that wage limit.

If you will reach your full retirement age in 2024, you can earn up to $59,520 before a penalty is assessed. Once you exceed that amount, Social Security will deduct $1 in benefits for every $3 in earnings above the limit.

Once you reach your full retirement age, there is no limit on how much you can earn. What’s more, the Social Security Administration will recalculate your benefit total to account for months when benefits were reduced or withheld due to excess earnings.

What Is the Average Social Security Benefit?

The Social Security Administration reports average benefits were the following, as of December 2023:

— Retirement: $1,905 per month

— Disability: $1,537 per month

— Survivors: $1,501 per month

What Is the Maximum Social Security Benefit?

There is a cap on how much you can receive from Social Security, and the maximum benefit depends on when you retire.

In 2024, retirees who begin claiming benefits at age 62 can receive a maximum of $2,710 per month. Meanwhile, someone who begins benefits at age 70 in 2024 can receive as much as $4,873 per month.

How Are Spousal Social Security Benefits Determined?

Spousal benefits can be as much as half of a husband or wife’s Social Security monthly payment, although the exact amount may depend on the spouse’s age at retirement. And a person can receive benefits based on their own working record or that of their spouse. This is an important distinction that is sometimes overlooked, McGrath says.

He uses this as an example: Someone has a $1,500 monthly benefit based on their own record, but their spouse receives a $4,000 monthly benefit. In this case, it makes more sense to claim a spousal benefit, which could be $2,000 per month.

[READ: How to Maximize Social Security With Spousal Benefits.]

How Do I Get a New Social Security Card?

If you need a new Social Security card and have a valid driver’s license or state-issued identification, you may be able to request one online. The Social Security Administration offers a brief screening tool that will determine whether you are eligible to request in this way.

Otherwise, you can complete a paper application and take it to your local Social Security office to request a replacement.

How Does Social Security Work?

Social Security was created in 1935 to provide financial assistance to older Americans. “It was meant to keep seniors out of poverty,” Czajka says.

Workers pay into the system via Social Security taxes in exchange for the government providing lifetime income once they reach retirement age. “Ultimately, it’s like a pension,” McGrath says.

To qualify for retirement benefits, one must earn 40 Social Security credits. Up to four credits can be earned per year, and in 2024, a worker must earn at least $6,920 to earn all four credits. Most people earn their credits in 10 years. Earnings beyond those 10 years can help boost your benefit amount since the system calculates monthly payments using your 35 highest-earning years.

“It’s an entitlement,” Czajka says. “It’s something we earned, and we should all get a piece of it.”

Social Security was created at a time when there were 7.8 million Americans age 65 and older. By 2020, this number grew to 55.8 million. This has contributed to the funding challenges for the program.

“It’s a program that would work really well when you have 40 workers for one retiree,” according to Azoury.

That’s about how many workers there were in 1940 for each beneficiary. For comparison, in 2023, there were only 2.7 workers paying taxes into the system for every person drawing benefits.

How Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability?

Social Security disability benefits are available to those with a medical condition that prevents them from being employed for at least a year or that is terminal in nature. In most instances, there is a five-month waiting period before benefits begin.

Work requirements vary depending on your age at the start of the disability. However, many workers still need to earn 40 Social Security credits, and of these, 20 credits must have been earned within 10 years of the start of the disability. Younger workers may qualify with a shorter work history.

The process of applying for Social Security disability benefits can be long and typically includes a thorough review of medical documentation. If your request is denied, that decision can be appealed. For some diseases — such as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), esophageal cancer and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease — the government has a compassionate allowance initiative to expedite a decision and the start of benefits.

When Will I Receive My Social Security Check?

Social Security makes payments on three Wednesdays each month. Your payment date depends on your birthday:

Birthday Range Payment Day
First through 10th of the month Second Wednesday of the month
11th through 20th of the month Third Wednesday of the month
21st through the 31st of the month Fourth Wednesday of the month

More from U.S. News

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Frequently Asked Social Security Benefit Questions originally appeared on

Update 05/24/24: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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