Learning the Lingo of Social Security

Is Social Security a topic in your conversations these days? Are you familiar with the lingo used to describe Social Security benefits, or does it sound like a new vocabulary to you?

Social Security employees strive to explain benefits using easy-to-understand, plain language. But if a technical term or acronym (an abbreviation of the first letters of words in a phrase) that you don’t know slips into the conversation or appears in written material, you can easily find the meaning in our online glossary at www.socialsecurity.gov/agency/glossary

Social Security acronyms function as verbal shorthand in our financial planning conversations. If you’re nearing retirement, you may want to know what PIA (primary insurance amount), FRA (full retirement age), and DRCs (delayed retirement credits) mean. These terms involve your benefit amount based on when you decide to take it.

If you take your retirement benefit at FRA, you’ll receive the full PIA (amount payable for a retired worker who starts benefits at full retirement age). So, FRA is an age and PIA is an amount.

What about DRCs? Delayed retirement credits are the incremental increases added to the PIA if you delay taking retirement benefits beyond your full retirement age. If you wait to begin benefits beyond FRA — say, at age 68 or even 70 — your benefit increases.

Once you receive benefits, you get a COLA most years. But don’t expect a refreshing drink — a COLA is a Cost of Living Adjustment, and that usually means a little extra money in your monthly payment.

Knowing some of these terms can help you fine-tune your conversations about Social Security.  If one of those unknown terms or acronyms does come up in conversation, you can be the one to supply the definition using our online glossary. Sometimes learning the lingo can deepen your understanding of how Social Security works for you. Discover more at www.socialsecurity.gov.

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36 thoughts on “Learning the Lingo of Social Security

  1. In written communications, the first time a technical term is used it should be spelled out with it’s acronym in parenthesis. Thereafter, use the acronym. Never use only the acronym in written communications, it forces the reader to do additional research to understand what has been written.

    Please advise SSA staff that the public is not familiar with Social Security industry jargon.

    • @carols: Ahem…that’s what this blog post – yes, the post you’re commenting on – is saying. It gave the acronym followed by the words behind the letters (titles), followed by a full explanation of the function of each concept/program/acronym. It even explained what an acronym is and why it’s used. All of which begs the question: Exactly what are you criticizing the SSA for doing or failing to do in this blog post? A rhetorical question, of course, given that I’ve already demonstrated that the article includes everything you believe it should, and more.

      • Hi Marc,

        You are correct, this SSA narrative does present as I commented. In my comment I wanted to note that not all SSA communications (this blog and personal communications) follow this format, i.e. use SSA acronyms without explanation.

  2. We all will welcome any simplified presentations that are received in “common, everyday English language”, After all this is America; others can find interpreters, if need be!

  3. Isn’t it strange that no one ever mentions the medicare surcharge based on Adjusted Gross Income that was slipped in quietly a few years ago?

        • Hi Kelvin, when it comes to qualifying for disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Income or SSDI program, individuals must have worked
          –long enough and recently enough– under Social Security to qualify for disability benefits. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which you have to earn within the last 10 years before you become disabled. Thanks!

    • “easyer” ?for “every one”

      Did you mean easier for everyone?

      If you did, they use acronyms to shorten the letters and not keep repeating 4-5 words when they can use an acronym.

      They give an explanation and the full wording of what the acronym means at the beginning of the letter. They then will just use the acronym throughout the rest of the letter.

      I guess they need to start making their letters ‘easyer’ to read so people that can’t even spell a simple word can understand.

      Oh wait, people wouldn’t understand anyway and will always complain. I don’t know what I was thinking.

  4. I’m still employed, age 71, and I’m receiving social security. Will the benifits increase each year I work or is it set for the rest of my life time?

    • Your benefits can increase. By now at your age you should have experienced re computations of your benefits each year that you worked and received notices around this time each year. So it is puzzling why you’d ask such a question.

    • Thank you for your questions Richard. The amount of benefits you receive is established at the time you applied for retirement benefits. It is based on the amount of your average lifetime earnings and your age at the time you applied. Generally, if you continue to work while receiving retirement benefits, your monthly benefit amount could increase. Each year, we review the records for all working Social Security recipients to see if additional earnings may increase monthly benefits. See our Retirement Planner: Getting Benefits While Working for more information.

  5. Starting at age 62, you get a higher monthly benefit if you claim later rather than earlier. This holds true right up to age 70. Why the focus on FRA?

  6. I do not like the fact that our CPI is lower than people that aren’t on SS. We pay the same prices in the stores as every one else. I don’t think it is fair.

  7. I would say that Social Security employees need to be more customer friendly. I have met some very nice people but also some who act like they are doing me a favor. It’s not a favor. It’s their job and it’s MY money. I do like your article :Learning the Lingo of Social Security” but they should be speaking the “Lingo” of the English language, when ever possible. Everyone has certain terminology they use on their specific jobs but usually know it doesn’t carry over to the public at large. Thank you to all the employees who care to do the best job possible for their customers.

  8. I am victim some body use may information and Social security to register a New born Child need help to report this to authorities also I am USA Citizen but never report this change to Social Security and all ways can verify may Citizenship thanks for the collaboration on this matter.

    • Hi Paula, you may call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call later in the week. The earliest age to apply and receive Social Security Retirement Benefits is 62, but if you decide to get benefits before your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced. Also, you can create a My Social Security account to review your earnings record and get an estimate of your future benefits. When you are ready, you can complete your application for retirement benefits online.
      Remember, through our Blog and Facebook page, we respond to questions and provide general information on our Retirement, Survivors, Disability, Medicare and SSI programs. If you have a general question, we encourage you to ask here. But remember, never post personal information on social media. Thanks!

  9. I feel….that acronyms are very helpful, and I’m glad that this website has a glossary!
    Also, I feel that us beneficiaries ought to have a chance…on being individual rep payees!
    I reckon….that being a representative payee for someone else can become rather burdensome, and….not only that, I feel we ought to have a chance to prove that we can manage our benefits! And, on top of that….most representative payees aren’t trustworthy! We are often used, and taken advantage of! They tend to use our benefits…to suit their needs verses us beneficiaries’ needs.

  10. I was told on yesterday I did not qualify for spousal benefit from my husband because I made $37.00 over the amount, ($840.00) monthly. He is getting $2200.00 monthly.
    Because I took early retirement at 62,I had previously been told I had to wait until he start drawing his social security before I could apply for spousal benefit. He wil draw his first check 11/15/2017.
    I was at home with our children for 15 years before I went back to work. We have been married 48years and 5 children, don’t this count for something
    I’m totally in shock that the information I had been given was incorrect and was given by a social securty employee.

    • Hi Belinda. In order to receive spouse’s retirement benefits at age 62 (or older), your spouse must be receiving retirement or disability benefits. Also, if a person begins to receive benefits at age 62 or prior to their full retirement age, their benefits are reduced. The reduction factors are permanently applied to all of the benefits the person may qualify for. Remember, if someone is eligible for both, his or her own benefit and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay their own first. If their spousal benefits are higher than their own retirement benefits, he or she will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit. See our Retirement Planner: Benefits For You As A Spouse for more information. Thanks.

  11. My fiance is incaarcerated on 3 duis, he draws disability which he worked for wll his life i e the coal mines. Mind you he is in jail not prison. I got a letter from the ss adminiatation that they were taking his hard earned disabilility for imprisonment for a convinction of a crime. We own our land and are paying for a house and plan to get married soon. My question for u is if we get married now will his benefits be reinstated to maintain our family?

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