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Expand Your Social Security Knowledge With These Four Terms

August 25, 2022 • By

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Last Updated: November 2, 2023

the word benefit in the dictionaryWe strive to explain your benefits using easy-to-understand, plain language. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to communicate information clearly in a way “the public can understand and use.” This can be particularly challenging when talking about complicated programs like Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare.

Take a moment to learn a few common Social Security terms and acronyms!


This stands for “Cost-of-Living Adjustment.” With COLAs, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits keep pace with inflation. Most years, your monthly benefit amount will get a COLA, which usually means extra money.


As you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn credits – previously called “Quarters of Coverage” – that count toward your eligibility for future Social Security benefits. You can earn a maximum of four credits each year. Most people need 40 credits to qualify for benefits. Younger people need fewer credits to qualify for disability or survivors benefits. For more information, see our publication covering Social Security Credits.

Earnings Record

This is the chronological history of the amount of money you earned each year during your working lifetime. Your credits remain on your Social Security earnings record even when you change jobs or have no earnings for a period of time. Review your earnings record with a personal my Social Security account.


This stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act.” It’s the tax withheld from your wages that funds the Social Security and Medicare programs.

Now, if any of these terms or acronyms comes up in conversation, you can help explain what they mean. Visit our online glossary to learn more of our terminology and deepen your understanding of how Social Security works for you.

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  1. Danielle M.

    If you please, I am currently trying to find out if there is a way to download an electronic copy of mine and my finances social security cards to send to the Community Action Office for our PPIP benefits. They will accept a digital copy of them as verification and I can’t find if there is a place where I can do that. If someone could assist me in finding that link or place to go I would greatly appreciate that. Thank you in advance for your time.

  2. Shekhar K.

    A person can request a new Social Security number, but only under certain conditions:[31]

    Where sequential numbers assigned to members of the same family are causing problems.
    In the event of duplicates having been issued.
    In cases where the person has been a victim of domestic violence or harassment, and there is a clear need to change their number for their personal safety.[32]
    When a person has been a victim of identity theft, and his/her Social Security number continues to be problematic.
    Where a person has a demonstrable religious objection to a number (such as certain Christians being averse to the number 666).

    For all of these conditions, credible third-party evidence such as a restraining order or police report is required.

  3. Naina K.

    Any healthcare provider, healthcare clearinghouse or healthcare organization that conducts transactions or uses health records that fall under HIPPA regulations is required to obtain an NPI. This includes organizations and providers that use a medical billing company to process their claims. HIPPA requires that any individual, business or healthcare agency who transmits any patient health information in electronic form in connection with a transaction is required to have an NPI number. Once a provider receives their NPI it cannot be changed and remains with them regardless of their position or where they live or work.

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