This article explains some of the basics of social security—specifically, where your tax dollars are going; how to become eligible; and when to apply. This material is excerpted from theSocial Security Administration website.
Social Security: A Simple Concept
The current Social Security system works like this: when you work, you pay taxes into Social Security. The government uses the tax money to pay benefits to:
- People who have already retired,
- People who are disabled,
- Survivors of workers who have died,
- Dependents of beneficiaries.
The money you pay in taxes isn’t held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. The government uses your taxes to pay people who are getting benefits right now. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust funds, not a personal account with your name on it.
Social Security is more than retirement.
Many people think of Social Security as just a retirement program. Most of the people receiving benefits are retired, but others receive benefits because they’re:
- A spouse or child of someone getting benefits,
- A divorced spouse of someone getting or eligible for Social Security,
- A spouse or child of a worker who died,
- A divorced spouse of a worker who died, or
- A dependent parent of a worker who died.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for Social Security at any age. In fact, Social Security pays more benefits to children than any other government program.
Where do your Social Security tax dollars go?
The breakdown for 2018:
When you work, 81 cents of every Social Security tax dollar you pay goes to a trust fund that pays monthly benefits to current retirees and their families and to surviving spouses and children of workers who have died. The rest goes to a trust fund that pays benefits to people with disabilities and their families.
How you become eligible for Social Security
As you work and pay taxes, you earn Social Security “credits.” In 2018, you earn one credit for each $1,320 in earnings—up to a maximum of four credits a year. The amount of money needed to earn one credit usually goes up every year.
Most people need 40 credits (10 years of work) to qualify for benefits. Younger people need fewer credits to be eligible for disability benefits or for their family members to be eligible for survivors benefits when the worker dies.
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