General, SSI

Social Security in Plain Language

October 29, 2020 • By

Reading Time: 1 Minute

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

Darlynda Bogle, Assistant Deputy Commissioner


  1. Shahnaaz K.

    Social security Agents are very rude hrs of wait they answer and hang the phone rudely on us. they don’t explain our concern don’t understand but talk rude and hang up. They are not paying us from their pocket. Any thing they need us to sent papers proofs and they tell us they didn’t received it. Plz hire young people on social security jobs. Since feb /2020 several times they hung the phone on me. fThanks.

    • Vonda V.

      We are sorry to hear about your experience, Shahnaaz. You can submit feedback by visiting our Contact Social Security page. Once there, select the “Email Us” link. This will take you to the “Email A Question to our Support Team” form, where you can complete and submit a compliment, complaint, or suggestion. We hope this helps.

  2. Rebecca A.

    I signed up for Medicare in September 2020 via online. I will be 65 in December. When will I get my Medicare card?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Rebecca, thank you for using our blog to ask your question. You can log in to or create a my Social Security account to check the status of your application online.

      If you are unable to check your status online, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  3. Diana

    I believe that if a person takes early retirement, that when they reach there normal retirement age that they should receive the amount of money they would have gotten if they had waited!

    • Michael B.

      Oh I totally agree they gave you the incentive to retire at that age then screw you with all their dumbass rules they made up ITS THE PUBLIC’S MONEY NOT THE GOVERNMENTS TO DO WHAT THEY WANT WITH IT. Reagan administration started messing with it now is a unfunded liability

  4. Tammy

    I was divorced in 2017, my ex-husband is no longer working after 33 years at the DOD… He says he is just taking a year off, he’s 60 years old, I believe he retired and he’s refusing to tell me, we were married 19 years, I have applied for disability, but nothing happened, I’m not doing to well health wise or financially,,
    How can I confirm that he has retired?
    And if he has am I allowed to file for S. S. Under his retirement..? I’m 52 years old??

  5. Vilma B.

    Please notify me that you got my letter for Social Security benefits withdrawal
    That I mailed to your office the week of 10/30/2020.
    And I will re-apply next year 2021 in May.

  6. jessica a.

    Hello my name is Jessica M Harrison and I would like to order a new social security card for me and my husband but I don’t remember my password.How do I go about finding out what it is?

  7. Randolph S.

    Hello. I have been collecting Social Security since age 62. I’ve been working a seasonal job every year I’ve collected benefits and paying social security. Would there be an adjustment? Tank you.

  8. David T.

    I have not received credit for 2019 quarters earned and my benefits have not been adjusted as in previous years. Is this due to the pandemic,and you are behind? If so I understand. Just wondering what’s going on. Thank you!

    • Vonda V.

      Hi David, thanks for using our blog. Each year we review the records for all Social Security recipients who work. If your latest year of earnings turns out to be one of your highest years, we refigure your benefit and pay you any increase due. This is an automatic process, and benefits are paid in December of the following year. For example, in December 2020, you should get an increase for your 2019 earnings if those earnings raised your benefit. The increase would be retroactive to January 2020.

      Check out our Receiving Benefits While Working web page for additional details.

  9. Kath

    I am divorced, married more than 10 years, not remarried.

    You do not explain CLEARLY when and how I have a right to my ex-spouse’s benefits and/or my benefits and how the heck I decide. Drives me nuts.

    Thank you.

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Kath, thanks for using our blog. We will always pay your own retirement benefit first. If your benefits as a divorced spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher divorced spouse benefit. However, keep in mind that a divorced spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your ex’s full retirement amount (not their reduced benefit amount). So, you are only going to receive additional divorced spouse’s benefits if your own full retirement benefit (not a reduced benefit) is less than half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit.

      For example, if a worker’s full retirement benefit amount is $1,100, the divorced spouse’s benefit is 50 percent of that, or $550. However, if that divorced spouse is eligible for a full retirement benefit on their own record of $400, then their actual divorced spouse’s benefit would be an additional $150 which equals that 50 percent. If the divorced spouse waited until their full retirement age to file, they would receive one payment of $550, even though $400 was from their own retirement record and $150 was from their ex-spouse’s record. Both of those benefits are reduced if the individual files prior to their full retirement age.

      Check out our Retirement Planner: If You’re Divorced for other eligibility requirements and more detailed information.

  10. Gian T.

    I want to know and understand clear all letters that SSA
    office sent me by my language, it’s Vietnamese.

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Gian, thanks for using our blog. Check out our Languages web page for Social Security information in other languages. We hope this is helpful!

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