Learning the Lingo of Social Security

November 2, 2017 • By

Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Last Updated: August 19, 2021

two men chatting 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

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 on our website.

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About the Author

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. Elias D.

    This content is amazing!

  2. Yugank K.

  3. Connie J.

    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?

  4. prince

    Building Rapport in Business – The Definitive Guide

  5. Donald R.

    I need a new copy of my Medicare card!!

  6. Belinda R.

    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.

    • Ray F.

      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.

  7. Krystalon S.

    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.

    • Ray F.

      Please visit Social Security’s Representative Payment Program web page for information.

    • Mark B.

      How do I become my own. Payee

      • Ann C.

        Hi, Mark. Thanks for your question. A payee is appointed by us to manage Social Security funds only. You have the right to receive your own Social Security check unless SSA believes you are not capable of managing or directing the management of your money. If you have a representative payee because of a physical or a mental disability, in order to become your own payee, you must show SSA that you are now mentally and physically able to handle your money yourself. You could provide: A doctor’s statement that there has been a change in your condition and that the doctor believes you are able to care for yourself; or an official copy of a court order saying that the court believes that you can take care of yourself; or other evidence that shows your ability to take care of yourself. For more information, visit here. Keep in mind, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are dedicating available staff to serve people in most critical need of our services. You can also your local Social Security office for assistance. Look for the general inquiry telephone number under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this helps.

    • Mark B.

      How do I become my own payee

  8. stephanie

    Great article – well written, easy to understand. Please write more!

    • Ray F.

      We appreciate your thoughts, Stephanie. Thanks for your comment!

  9. Paula B.

    How do I go about setting an appointment to speak with one of your reps about retiring and Social Security?

    • Ray F.

      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!

  10. Oscar A.

    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.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Oscar. If you think someone is using your Social Security number, there are several actions you can take. Please visit our Frequently Asked Questions web page for more information. Thanks.

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