General, SSI

Social Security in Plain Language

October 29, 2020 • By

Last Updated: March 17, 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

Comments

  1. JIM RUSSELL

    My wife is filing now to collect SS at 63. As the higher wage earner, I will wait another 4 years until my FRA (66/8) to file. If I die after filing, for example 75 years old, will she receive 100% of my higher benefit or will she receive a lessor amount since she filed before her FRA?

    • Vonda

      Hi Jim, thanks for using our blog to ask your question. Typically, a widow or widower at full (survivors) retirement age or older generally receives 100% of the deceased worker’s amount, a widow or widower under full retirement age receives about 71 to 99 percent of the worker’s benefit amount, and a widow or widower with a child younger than age 16 receives 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount. The percentage depends on the age of the widow.

      We are only going to pay the highest benefit amount from either record, meaning you don’t get both retirement and widow(er)s benefits but the higher of the two. For more information about how much a benefit would be, visit our If You Are The Survivor web page.

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  3. Ejaz Furqan

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  4. Solon Mitchell

    If I stop contributing to SS at the age of 62 and delay collecting SS benefits until FRA (66years) will the monthly benefits remain the same or increase?

  5. Dorothy Graves

    I’m going to start collecting social security in June at the age of 66 and 2 months: I will continue to work part time (less than 24 hours a week). How much can I earn with out penalties.

    • Vonda

      Hi Dorothy, thanks for using our blog. You can get Social Security retirement or survivors benefits and work at the same time. However, there is a limit to how much you can earn and still receive full benefits. The amount you’re allowed to earn while receiving benefits depends on your age. If you attain full retirement age in 2021, the earnings limit is $50,520 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 2021, that limit is $18,960.

      Visit our Receiving Benefits While Working web page for more details.

  6. Sandy Wall

    Today I am applying for retirement benefits to begin in April 2021 (month I turn 70) so that I can receive all 48 months of DRCs. My husband is filing a Restricted application for my spousal benefits ( not filing for his own so that his benefits will continue to grow(DRCs) until he is 70). Can we file both of our applications online on the same day or must he wait until I am receiving benefits???

  7. Sandra Marchand

    If your spouses social security check is great than yours, and he dies, do you get his full amount instead of your own.

    • Vonda

      Hi Sandra, thanks for using our blog to ask your question. Typically, a widow or widower at full (survivors) retirement age or older generally receives 100% of the deceased worker’s amount, a widow or widower under full retirement age receives about 71 to 99 percent of the worker’s benefit amount, and a widow or widower with a child younger than age 16 receives 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.

      We are only going to pay the highest benefit amount from either record, meaning you don’t get both retirement and widow(er)s benefits but the higher of the two. For more information about how much your benefit would be, visit our If You Are The Survivor web page.

  8. Guadalupe Ramirez

    I am 63. I plan to retire soon with a pension, so I don’t want to work and wait until FRA to collect SS. I have worked more than 35 years. Will not working for until FRA at 66.6 lower my SSI check since I will have over 4 years of zero income

    • Vonda

      Hi Guadalupe, thank you for the question. A Social Security retirement benefit is calculated by using your highest 35 years of earnings. If you do not have 35 years of earnings, we will use all of the earnings on your record and factor in an annual total of $0.00 earnings for each of the remaining years.

      If you have a my Social Security account, you can get an estimate of your personal retirement benefits and see the effects of different retirement age scenarios. You can also view the benefits you could receive based on your spouse’s earnings history, or the benefits your spouse could receive based on your earnings history.

      If you are unable to create an account, you can use our online Retirement Estimator. We hope this is helpful!

  9. Sherlyn Cartwright

    I am 73. Widow for 2 years. I took my husband’s benefit because his was higher. If I remarry and change my name what happens to my benefits??

    • Vonda

      Hi Sherlyn, thank you for the question. Widows that remarry after age 60 (age 50 if disabled), may continue to qualify for benefits on their deceased spouse’s Social Security record. If your new spouse is a Social Security beneficiary, you may want to apply for spouse’s benefits on that record. If that amount is higher, you may be entitled to the higher amount, based on both records. Generally, you must be married for one year before you can get spouse’s benefits. Please visit our Frequently Asked Questions web page to see how marriage can affect Social Security benefits. We hope this helps!

  10. Pallavi Bhatt

    I am 74.Started taking my benefit at 70.I still work ,self employed.I continue to pay social security and medicare taxes .Does this increase my social security payment? or would this increase my medicare part B and D payment?

    • Vonda

      Hi Pallavi, thank you for using our blog to ask your question. 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 2021, you should get an increase for your 2020 earnings if those earnings raised your benefit. The increase would be retroactive to January 2021.

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

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