General, SSI

Social Security in Plain Language

October 29, 2020 • By

Last Updated: July 19, 2021

Some of the terms and acronyms people use when they talk about Social Security can be a little confusing. We’re here to help you understand all you need to know.

We strive to explain your benefits using easy-to-understand, plain language. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to communicate 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. If there’s a technical term or acronym that you don’t know, you can easily find the meaning in our online glossary.

Everyone uses shorter versions of words nowadays. We do too. Social Security’s acronyms function as shorthand in conversations about our programs and services. 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 describe 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.

Once you receive benefits, you get a COLA most years. A COLA is a Cost-of-Living Adjustment, and that will usually mean a little extra money in your monthly benefit.

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.

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About the Author

Darlynda Bogle, Assistant Deputy Commissioner


  1. David Freitag

    This is a great idea! Well done.

  2. About Creativity

    I have been paying and having benefits since the early 1970s and I consider myself long-term and loyal.

  3. Leticia Ochoa

    I had such a good experience yesterday, 11/28/2020 when I called Social Security for assistance. The gentleman that assisted me was so pleasant and patient. All I know is his name was Kelly and I called at 6:30 p.m. central time the 1-800 number. Thank you.

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Thank you, Leticia! Your thoughts are important to us and we’re pleased when feedback is positive. We try hard to provide the best possible service to our customers and your satisfaction is our reward.

  4. Mel Aaronson

    Social Security is the most complete social insurance program ever enacted.
    American workers revere all of its benefits:
    Hopefully the new Administration and Congresd will take action to protect and improve the program.

  5. Jo Rupp

    Can a widow retire with full benefits at age 60 years old.

    Law states that widow or widower can retire at 60.

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi Jo, thanks for using our blog. If you are the widow of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can receive full benefits at full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60. If you qualify for retirement benefits on your own record, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62 or as late as age 70.

      Check out our Survivors Planner web page for additional details.

  6. Michael Wallace

    What happens if the economy crashes? Will I still receive benefits?

  7. Shannon Dunphy

    I’m receiving SSDI monthly benefits. When I reach FRA, will my benefit remain the same? Will it go down or will I receive my current amount plus retirement pay? What happens with my TSP (former Fed Govt employee)?

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi Shannon, thanks for using our blog. When you receive disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, we will automatically convert your disability benefits to retirement benefits, when you attain your Full Retirement Age. The benefit amount will generally remain the same. We hope this is helpful!

    • John J OMalia

      It stays the same.

  8. Vincent Fricker

    How much of an increase could I expect in 2021 of my ssdi income?

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi Vincent, thanks for using the blog to ask your question. All monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 70 million Americans will increase 1.3 percent in 2021. For more details about the new COLA, visit our Cost-of-Living Adjustment information page.

  9. Harold Archie

    Thank you for keeping me informed.

  10. Lee A Short


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