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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. Roi

    With inflation continuing rising and COLA increases not being enough to survive are there any updates allowing SSDI members able to make more money while working?

  2. Lon

    What does social security pay for a group home with crack heads that’s what it pays for.

    • Roi

      Lon, you need another job, this one doesn’t seem to fit for you. It was a Question, and your response was awful to say the least. Hope you find another employment cause Social Security should not have had employed someone like you.

      • Simone


        Lon was not responding to your question and I’m pretty sure that he is not employed by SSA. The responses from SSA are a different color. Plus if you look at a the time, he wrote this comment before yours.

  3. Alissa

    Many people on Social Security & SSI are getting inflation checks the past couple months (2022). Though disability has not.
    I am wondering if Disability will be given inflation relief checks as well? I know there is a COLA increase coming in 2023.
    I do not qualify for SSI. But greatly affected by inflation and Medicare increases as well.

    • Tanya R.

      The cost-of-living adjustment in December 2022 is the same whether you’re receiving retirement or disability benefits. The only difference is retirement benefits may be reduced for age depending on your month of election.

  4. Deborah

    I need to change Banks it’s been purchased by another bank and I don’t like the new policies, I’m severely Learning disabled and I don’t know how to balance the checking, how can I take money out and not overdraft? Sadly in April I had another stroke and they hit me with 600$ OD. Fee’s and they put my D.D as pending! Pending what to see if they could get me for another OD fee? Is there help available for someone like me?

    • Jean

      Sorry to hear about your difficulties. Throughout the U.S, each county has an agency to help elderly and disabled people. In Wisconsin, for example, each county has an Aging and Disability Center with benefit specialists for the disabled and elderly. Look on your county’s website for the contact.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Deborah. We are sorry to hear about your situation. You should contact your bank to discuss your options regarding your actual bank account. If you are receiving Social Security retirement or disability, you can create a personal my Social Security account to change your direct deposit online. If you are receiving Supplemental Security Income, you should contact your local Social Security office immediately. We hope this helps.

  5. Duane G.

    Did Congress at some points down the line borrow funds from SS and never paid them back??

  6. BLB

    The link here does not seem to work:
    For more information, see our “publication covering Social Security Credits.”

    • A.C.

      Hi. We are sorry you had difficulty accessing the link. You can check out our publication covering Social Security Credits here. Thanks! 

  7. Cathy

    Where can I ask specific question regarding drawing on ex’s SS after 10 yrs of marriage and if/how doing so might affect my government pension.

    • John J.

      Either call the toll free # 1-800-772 1213 or stop in to your local Social office.

    • Jean

      If your government pension is based on noncovered employment, the Government Pension Offset will apply to any Social Security benefits you could be paid on your ex-spouse’s account. This publication explains GPO.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Cathy. Thanks for visiting our blog. To be eligible for divorced spouse benefits, you had to be married to your former spouse for at least 10 years, and you cannot be eligible for a higher benefit on your own record. For more information on how to qualify for divorced spouse benefits, visit our Benefits Planner. As for your government pension, a pension based on work that is not covered by Social Security (for example, Federal civil service and some State or local government agencies, such as police officers and some teachers) may cause the amount of your Social Security benefit to be reduced. Your benefit can be reduced based on one of two provisions: The Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. We hope this helps. 

  8. Landell W.

    Thanks very good information to know I would had never known. Can one settle for a lump sum are what is a ticket to work on disability and ssi. How dose this efect it. ?

    • Jean

      SSA and SSI benefits are not paid in a lump sum unless retroactive benefits are due.

      The Ticket to Work program is explained on It is one of the work incentives to help people receiving disability benefits to return to work.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Landell. Unfortunately, your question is a bit more complex than we can handle in this forum. For your security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We ask that members in our Blog community work with our offices with specific questions. You can call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. You can also contact your local Social Security office. We hope this helps.

  9. Barbara T.

    My SSDI was taken due to minimum wage increase Nov 2019 for $12.00 SSA employees refused to consider $347.00 out of pocket medical expenses have COPD terminal plus $270.00 guard license and $166.06 out of pocket expenses to fix port in car so I would be able to plug in portable oxygen tank SSA states overpayment of over $33,000.00

    • John J.

      Your statements are disjointed at best. If you feel SS is not addressing your concerns, contact your local Congressman.

    • Jean

      If your work-related expenses were not considered when it was determined you were doing “substantial gainful activity,”you should request “reconsideration” on this decision. While it doesn’t happen often, an error may have been made.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Barbara. We are sorry to hear about your situation. First, if you disagree with a decision, you can file an appeal. There are four levels in the appeals process. A reconsideration is the first level. Typically, the length of time it takes to receive a decision on your reconsideration is about 60 days but the amount of time could vary from case-to-case. We reevaluate all evidence, plus any additional evidence submitted and make a new decision. If you disagree with the reconsidered decision, you can choose to go to the next level of the appeals process. For more specific information about your case, call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. You can also contact your local Social Security office.

      Secondly, you may be eligible to receive social services from the state in which you live. These services include free meals, housekeeping help, transportation, or help with other problems. To get information about services in your area and find out if you qualify, you will need to contact your state or local social services or welfare office. We hope this helps.

      • Danielle M.

        Dear Ann C.

        Does the housekeeping help apply to individuals who are applying to SSI currently but have been denied for Disability? I could benefit from these services greatly due to the fact that it is very difficult for me to get these chores done correctly without massive amounts of pain. Therefore, they generally don’t get done the way they should. Your reply will be much appreciated.

        • A.C.

          Hi, Danielle. Thanks for visiting our blog. To get information about social services available in your area and find out if you qualify, you will need to contact your state or local social services or welfare office. We hope this helps.

  10. Luis

    Liga estuve ayudando put my stimulus

    • Luis A.

      Can you guys help me to find my stimulus

      • A.C.

        Hi, Luis. Thanks for visiting our blog. Please visit the Internal Revenue Service’s website for all your Economic Income Payment-related questions. If you are unable to find the answer, call the IRS hotline at 1-800-919-9835. Thanks!

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