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. Edie

    I have a question about how to complete the application for Social Security benefits. It is asking me to say what my wages will be for this year. I am furloughed and have had no wages since April. I am hoping to be called back to work in September, but there is no guarantee. How do I estimate my wages for the year? I have earned $0 since furloughed but should I estimate that I will earn my full wages starting in September? What if I don’t get called back in September? I’m not sure what this estimation means to the process and want to make sure that I answer it as correctly as possible. Thank you

    • V.V.

      Hi Edie, thanks for using our blog. That question is related to the annual earnings limits. The amount you’re allowed to earn while receiving benefits depends on your age. If you attain full retirement age (66) in 2020, the earnings limit is $48,600 but we only count earnings before the month you reach full retirement age. Beginning with the month you reach full retirement age, earnings no longer reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn. If you’re under full retirement age for the entire year, then we deduct $1 from benefit payments for every $2 earned above the annual limit. For 2020, that limit is $18,240. Visit our Retirement Planner: Getting Benefits While Working and our Retirement Earnings Test Calculator.

      The Benefits Planner: Retirement provides detailed information about Social Security retirement benefits.


    need to get a copy of my aunt SSI for rent purpose

    • A.C.

      Hi, William. If your aunt needs a benefit verification letter, she can view, print, and save her benefit verification letter by creating a personal my Social Security account online. She can also contact her local Social Security office for assistance. Thanks!


  4. Steve

    Why does my 1099SSA say that I received a net $91,655.00 last year when I only received $23.000.00? Now my taxes say I have to pay $9,485.00 that’s like half of what I received

  5. Karen K.

    I have an 80 yr old friend who took over the care of her 16 yr old grandsons, after her daughter passed from cancer. The boys receive social security, can she do her taxes without reporting that? She lost her SSA
    1099 but got a replacement for herself but not the boys. my email:

    • V.V.

      Hi Karen, thank you for your question. The children’s income would be reported on their own tax return if they filed taxes. We hope this helps.

  6. Linda D.

    Social security is now taking a fall because of trumps stimulus and his paycheck protection act. Doesnt he care about seniors?

  7. Fatih

    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.

  8. Tomy

  9. Bobby D.

    I received a message on my phone concerning my social security retirement, wanting me to call this number (986-200-0997). Even though I did not call them back, I suspect it may be a fraudulent call.
    Bobby Powell

    • A.C.

      Hi, Bobby. Thanks for letting us know. Generally, we will only contact you if you have requested a call or have ongoing business with us. Recently, scams—misleading victims into making cash or gift card payments to avoid arrest for Social Security number problems—have skyrocketed. Our employees will never threaten you for information or promise a benefit in exchange for personal information or money.

      If you receive a suspicious call like this: 1) Hang up. 2) Do not provide personal information, money, or retail gift cards. 3) Report suspicious calls here. For more information on how to protect yourself, check out our Frequently Asked Questions. We hope this helps.

  10. DONNA F.

    I no a lot of people won’t like what I have to say whether or not we can make a difference .this is a sad life what little we get to live on day to day . I pray that there is some one out there that can make adjustments to the things we live in.I have hope people like me have so little and have to watch things come and go as the rich look down on me and my son . In time we will all be equal .money is what keeps use going . Seeing my son smile and one day become healthy live the life that a man what’s a family and kids. That just a dream I caree . Any more we don’t know what’s next. What’s tomorrow going to bring .

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