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. Raymond E.

    It would be great if the Glossary was a tab or button on the SS front page so that we could always find it when we came across an abbreviation that we were not familiar with.

  2. James C.

    I reached my FRA in May of 2020. I want to start collecting my benefits and continue to work, but I don’t know how it will affect me at tax time, or if my benefits will be reduced?

  3. Gwen R.

    let me tell u this simple and direct method. We are in Omaha and even as we call our workplaces they say we want an appointment but they have got none available everytime

  4. Susan D.

    We have been trying to record for benefits for my granddaughter who misplaced her father 6 months ago. We are in Oklahoma and at the same time as we name our offices they are saying we want an appointment but they have got none available.

    • Vonda

      For your security, Susan, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We ask that members in our Blog community work with our offices with specific questions. 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. Daffie J.

    Earn money on paid surveys.

  6. Laura W.

    We have been trying to document for advantages for my granddaughter who misplaced her father 6 months ago. We are in Oklahoma and whilst we call our offices they say we want an appointment however they have got none available. They say they time table appts 2 weeks out and begin new on Mondays however even whilst. I name on Mondays they say they have none available.

  7. Jacqueline R.

    I do not know where else to address this issue. We have been trying to file for benefits for my granddaughter who lost her father 6 months ago. We are in Oklahoma and when we call our offices they say we need an appointment but they have none available. They say they schedule appts 2 weeks out and start new on Mondays but even when. I call on Mondays they say they have none available. After calling for this long we should have had an appointment. Most of the time you call their offices it says they cannot take the call and hang up. What is our recourse?

    • Vonda V.

      We are sorry to hear about your experience, Jacqueline. 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.

  8. Rachel L.

    In 2020 the income limit to keep SSDI benefits is $1260 in gross wages per month, so the number of hours will depend on your hourly wage. If you haven’t worked since you started getting benefits, you can earn an unlimited amount of income for nine months (they needn’t be consecutive), which is called a Trial Work Period.

    • michael j.

      this is contrary to the answer given above. that for the nine month period you can make unlimited. the answer above says 910. so who is correct

  9. Linda H.

    Hello, im getting my disability and want to work part time .so how many hours a week can i work with out losing my benefit?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Linda, thank you for your question. Social Security has special rules that make it possible for people with disabilities receiving Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work and still receive monthly payments. These are called work incentives.

      For SSDI beneficiaries, there is a Trial Work Period (TWP) and then an Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). The TWP allows you to test your ability to work for at least 9 months. During this period, you will receive your full disability benefit regardless of how much you earn as long as your work activity is reported and you continue to have a disabling impairment. In 2020, any month in which earnings exceed $910 is considered a month of the 9-month trial work period.

      Once you’ve completed your TWP, you get a 36-month safety net called the EPE. During the EPE, you get benefits for all months your earnings or work activities are below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level as long as you continue to have a disabling impairment. Social Security will suspend cash benefits for months earnings are over SGA and start benefits again if earnings fall below the SGA level. In 2020, you are earning SGA if your earnings, after any allowable deductions, are more than $1,260 in a month.

      Check out Social Security’s Red Book for descriptions of the many work incentives.

  10. ARIE L.

    how can i create an acc if i live in ISRAEL?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Arie, thank you for your question. At this time you must have a U. S. mailing address to create or access your online account. The “my Social Security” authentication system requires address verification as one of the essential criteria for issuing an account. People with APO/FPO/DPO addresses can create an account overseas, but our system does not support registration and account creation for users with a foreign address yet.

      We recommend that individuals living outside the United States contact the nearest Federal Benefit Unit in the area for any assistance related to Social Security programs and benefits. Also, our Office of International Operations home page provides more information to assist our customers living abroad.

    • regulo j.

      is medicare available in any form for social security recipients living abrosd?

      • regulo j.

        is medicare in any form available for social security recipients living abroad? thank you

      • Vonda

        Hi Regulo, thanks for using out blog. Medicare generally does not cover health services while you are outside the United States. Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands are considered part of the United States.

        Check out our publication Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States for more details.

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