Social Security is much more than a retirement program. Most Americans are protected by the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program — the official name of Social Security — from birth through old age. Here are four times in your life when Social Security might matter to you or the people you care about.
A Wide Safety Net
Current Social Security beneficiaries
Source: Social Security Administration, 2019
When You Start Your Career
Your first experience with Social Security might be noticing that your paycheck is smaller than you expected due to FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes. Most jobs are covered by Social Security, and your employer is required to withhold payroll taxes to help fund Social Security and Medicare.
Although no one likes to pay taxes, when you work and pay FICA taxes, you earn Social Security credits, which enable you (and your eligible family members) to qualify for Social Security retirement, disability, and survivor benefits. Most people need 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, but fewer credits may be needed to receive disability benefits or for family members to receive survivor benefits.
If You Become Disabled
Disability can strike anyone at any time. Research shows that one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching full retirement age.¹
Social Security disability benefits can replace part of your income if you have a severe physical or mental impairment that prevents you from working. Your disability generally must be expected to last at least a year or result in death.
When You Marry…or Divorce
Married couples may be eligible for Social Security benefits based on their own earnings or on a spouse’s earnings.
When you receive or are eligible for retirement or disability benefits, your spouse who is age 62 or older may also be able to receive benefits based on your earnings if you’ve been married at least a year. A younger spouse may be able to receive benefits if he or she is caring for a child under age 16 or disabled before age 22 who is receiving benefits based on your earnings.
If you were to die, your spouse may be eligible for survivor benefits based on your earnings. Regardless of age, your spouse who has not remarried may receive benefits if caring for your child who is under age 16 or disabled before age 22 and entitled to receive benefits based on your earnings. At age 60 or older (50 or older if disabled), your spouse may be able to receive a survivor benefit even if not caring for a child.
If you divorce and your marriage lasted at least 10 years, your former unmarried spouse may be entitled to retirement, disability, or survivor benefits based on your earnings.
When You Welcome a Child
Your child may be eligible for Social Security if you are receiving retirement or disability benefits, and may receive survivor benefits in the event of your death. In fact, according to the Social Security Administration, 98% of children could get benefits if a working parent dies.² Your child must be unmarried and under age 18 (19 if a full-time student) or age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.
In certain cases, grandchildren and stepchildren may also be eligible for benefits based on your earnings.
Know the Rules
To receive any type of Social Security benefit, you must meet specific eligibility requirements, only some of which are covered here. For more information, visit ssa.gov.
1,2 – Social Security Administration, 2019