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What Is Social Security Insurance?

A Social Security benefits application.
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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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In the United States, Social Security insurance is a government benefit program that provides a regular income to workers and their dependents after a worker retires, dies, or becomes disabled. Eligibility for different Social Security insurance programs depends on a number of factors, including the length of time a worker pays into the Social Security system, a worker's ability to continue to work, as well as a worker's age. The amount that Social Security insurance pays in benefits depends on a worker's earnings over the course of his career as well as economic trends and the cost of living.

For many people, Social Security is primarily a form of retirement insurance. During a person's working years, she will regularly pay Social Security taxes. When it is time for a person to retire, he can apply to the Social Security Administration to begin receiving monthly cash benefits. The age at which a person can begin receiving Social Security insurance benefits differs according to personal choice as well as threshold established by the Social Security Administration. An individual may decide to apply for benefits at a relatively early age and thus receive a reduced monthly cash benefit. On the other hand, a person may choose to delay applying for retirement benefits and thus receive a greater amount of money each month.

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Other Social Security insurance programs include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which provides income to workers who become disabled and who are no longer able to earn sufficient income to adequately support themselves. Qualifying for SSDI can be an arduous process that may include physical examinations, considerable paperwork, and the possibility of having to repeatedly appeal a denial of a person's SSDI claim. Once someone qualifies for SSDI, she can also obtain other types of assistance, including Medicare health coverage. Individuals who receive SSDI may also be eligible to participate in various government-sponsored work retraining programs.

In many cases, the spouses, surviving spouses, and dependents of individuals who receive Social Security benefits are also eligible to receive benefits. The benefit amount that a spouse or dependent can receive from Social Security varies, but can substantially contribute to a family's income. In addition to Social Security retirement and disability benefits, the Social Security Administration also oversees an additional social insurance program called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This program provides income to impoverished disabled and elderly people regardless of whether they qualify through work for other Social Security insurance programs such as retirement or disability.

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