General, SSI

Social Security in Plain Language

October 29, 2020 • By

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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. Judy A.

    I’m are is a 68 and 70 yrs. trust funds for the a dead but a Obama’s letter trust , but a plan political science is 20 yrs. retirement, paid for it TONS the same added 2.5 trillions play

  2. Pim B.

    good info..

  3. Turcan

    I would appreciate if you could add a list of abbreviations and their definitions on your web site.
    respectfully yours

  4. Judy W.

    I’m trying to understand about my benefits that i receive each i was told that i’m getting my disability but not my social security and i’m. 67 years old i been receiveing disability since 7/2017 and was told that after i turn 65. I would get my social security but i have not received my ssi yet i worked over 10 years of my life and i have not received it yet.

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Judy, 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.

      On the other hand, if you’re receiving disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, and become eligible for any other Social Security benefits on your own record or the records of others (e.g., retirement benefits) you are required to apply for those benefits as soon as you’re eligible. SSI is a needs based program intended for disabled adults that have limited income and resources so additional income can affect SSI eligibility.

      If you have additional questions or want to check on potential benefits, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance or you can contact 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.

  5. Lucinda M.

    Thank you.

  6. Robert W.

    My wife was born before 1/2/1954 and is receingi soc secuiy benefits. I am also receiving 50% of her social security beneftit until I file for my own social security benefit when I reach age 70. Question- my annual social security statement I receive in the mail only pertains to what I am drawing now from my spouse; however would love to receive a statement concerning what my potential social security benefit will be at age 70. How can I obtain a paper statement concerning my own benefits? Thanks.

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Robert, thanks for using our blog. You can call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance or you can contact 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.

  7. Bron N.

    I am on social security retirement and need to apply for Medicare and food stamp benefits as I really in need of that…will that effect my monthly cash benefit as I don’t draw very much

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Bron, thanks for using our blog. If you already get Social Security benefits, we’ll automatically enroll you in Medicare Hospital Insurance (Part A) and Medical Insurance (Part B). We’ll mail you all the information you need a few months before you become eligible. In addition, you may want to apply for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs. The Extra Help is estimated to be worth about $5,000 per year. To qualify for the Extra Help, a person must be receiving Medicare, have limited resources and income, and reside in one of the 50 States or the District of Columbia. In addition to the Extra Help, you may be able to get help from your State with other Medicare costs under the Medicare Savings Programs. By completing the Extra Help application, you will start your application process for a Medicare Savings Program. We will send information to your State who will contact you to help you apply for a Medicare Savings Program unless you tell us not to when you complete the application. If you need information about Medicare Savings Programs, Medicare Prescription Drug plans or how to enroll in a plan, call 1-800-MEDICARE (TTY 1-877-486-2048) or visit You also can request information about how to contact your State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (SHIP). The SHIP offers help with your Medicare questions.

      As for additional assistance, you may be eligible to receive additional assistance from the state where you live. These services include Medicaid, free meals, housekeeping help, transportation or help with other problems. You can get information about services in your area from your state or local social services office. You can also visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services web page for more information. We hope this information is helpful!

  8. gerald o.

    if I still work and I am drawing my full ss will my check go up each year because I,m still paying into it

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Gerald, 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. David d.

    Why is the social security office closed in syracuse ny and not elsewhere?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi David, thanks for using our blog. Social Security is available to provide critical services. If you have a critical situation that we cannot help you with by phone, online, fax, or mail, we may be able to schedule an in-office appointment for you. Check out our Social Security and Coronavirus web page for more information.

  10. crowe

    How about you lazy educated idiots just spell the words out! That’s simple! Type those words out!!! Seniors forget wtf it means when we come to the acronyms. The whole thing to the simple language effn rule is “MAKE IT READABLE!!!” Now… Was that so hard?

    • Robert G.

      We all can tell what ( wtf ) means, so you also know, so why complain about not spelling out the whole words.

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