There are several different types of Social Security benefits. The most common are Retirement, Spousal, Widow(er)'s, and Disability. We explain the differences below. If entering information into our software about current or planned benefits, be sure you are entering the correct information for the specific type of benefit.
Your retirement benefit is based on your own work record. It is calculated based on your 35 highest years of income, whenever these 35 highest earning years occurred. You can file for it as early as 62 and there's no reason to delay filing for it past 70.
If you file for it before your full retirement age (FRA), it will be reduced. If you file for it after your FRA, you'll earn delayed retirement credits for each month past your FRA that you don't receive your retirement benefit. Delayed retirement credits are 8% per year but they are applied by the month.
Note that having low or no income in the years before you file will not decrease your benefit amount. Social Security's estimates are based on the assumption that you'll continue to earn at your last reported level until you file for your benefit. This means that if you don't actually continue to earn at your last reported income level, your actual benefit will be less than their inflated estimate based on inaccurate assumptions about your future earnings.
Your spousal benefit is based on your spouse's work record. Once your spouse files for their retirement benefit, you can file for your spousal benefit if you're at least 62. If you file for it before your full retirement age (FRA), it will be reduced and you'll also be deemed to have filed for your retirement benefit, which will also be reduced.
If you file for your spousal benefit at your FRA, it won't be reduced. It doesn't increase after your FRA if you don't file for it like a retirement benefit does. Your unreduced spousal benefit is 50% of your spouse's Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to their full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount. The most your spousal benefit can ever be is 50% of your spouse's PIA, not 50% of an increased retirement benefit taken after their FRA.
If you were born before 1/2/1954, you may be able to file a restricted application for your spousal benefit only and delay filing for your retirement benefit until later so it will increase. Your spouse must have filed for their retirement benefit and you must be at or past your FRA to file a restricted application for spousal benefits only. See the Social Security filing guide for more.
You can claim a divorced spousal benefit if your ex is currently receiving a retirement or disability benefit. You must be single and 62 or over and you must have been married to your ex for at least 10 years. Note that you cannot receive a divorced spousal benefit if your PIA exceeds or equals 50% of your ex's PIA and you are currently receiving a retirement or disability benefit.
If your ex is not currently receiving a retirement or disability benefit but they're at least 62 and have enough work credits to receive Social Security retirement benefits, you can become independently entitled to your divorced spousal benefit if you meet the other requirements in the preceding paragraph and have been divorced for at least two continuous years.
Widow(er)'s Insurance Benefits
Your widow(er)'s benefit is based on your late spouse's record. You may also qualify for a divorced widow(er)'s benefit if you're single or were over 60 when you remarried.
If you were married to your late spouse at least nine months and you are 60 or older, or if you are at least 50 but under 60 and you meet Social Security's disability requirements, you may be eligible for widow(er)'s benefits. You also must not have remarried before age 60, your deceased spouse must have achieved fully insured status, and you must not be entitled to a retirement insurance benefit that equals or exceeds your deceased spouse's PIA.
Your unreduced widow(er)'s benefit is equal to your deceased spouse's Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to their full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, plus any increases to their retirement insurance benefit they earned by delaying entitlement to retirement benefits past their FRA.
You may be eligible for divorced widow(er)’s benefits if you were married to your late ex for at least 10 years. You must also be 60 or older, or at least 50 but under 60 and meet the disability requirements as defined by Social Security. Your late ex must also have had enough work credits to be able to receive a retirement benefit, you must be single and you must not be receiving a retirement insurance benefit equaling or exceeding your deceased ex’s PIA to receive a divorced widow(er)'s benefit.
Your disability benefit is based on your own work record. You can receive it once your disability status has been approved by Social Security. Disability benefits are only available before your full retirement age (FRA). At your FRA, your disability benefit will convert to a standard retirement benefit. You can then suspend it and earn delayed retirement credits until 70. See the entry on retirement benefits for more. You cannot receive any other benefits while what will then be your retirement benefit is suspended if you do suspend it.
You cannot opt out of having your disability benefit convert to a retirement benefit at your FRA and you cannot withdraw the automatic application for your retirement benefit that happens at FRA.
A spouse or divorced spouse can claim spousal benefits based on your record once you begin receiving a disability benefit as long as they meet all the necessary requirements.
Disability benefits can also be received by a disabled child who has a work record of their own. These are distinct from Childhood Disability Benefits (CDBs) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. See the entries on each of these benefits for more. You can enter disability benefits based on a child's own work record and SSI benefits on the child's details screen. The software automatically calculates CDBs as appropriate.
Childhood Disability Benefits
A child can claim Childhood Disability Benefits (CDBs) on a parent's record if the child meets all of the conditions to receive child's benefits and if they're 18 or older and meet Social Security's disability requirements. CDBs were formerly known as Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits.
The disabled child insurance benefit is equal to 50% of the insured parent’s PIA if the insured parent is currently entitled to a retirement benefit. The benefit amount might be reduced by the Family Maximum that can be claimed on a single worker's record. The benefit amount also might be reduced if a disabled child is entitled to a disability based on his or her own record or a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit. See the entries on each of these benefits for more. You can enter disability benefits based on a child's own work record and SSI benefits on the child's details screen. The software automatically calculates CDBs as appropriate.
SSI — Supplemental Security Income Benefits
SSI benefits are paid to disabled children with limited income and resources. SSI benefits are reduced by Childhood Disability Benefits (CDBs) and by any disability benefits based on a disabled child's own work record.
Learn more about the differences between Social Security Disability Benefits, Childhood Disability Benefits, and Supplemental Security Income Benefits.