Social Security is most often associated with retirement, and most people receiving benefits are retired, but other citizens of the United States might qualify as well. You might qualify for benefits if you are a U.S. citizen and are unable to work because of disability or if your spouse or guardian has passed away. In all cases, however, other criteria must be met, including age, the number of years worked and the amount of money paid into Social Security over those years.
Regardless of age or impediment, Social Security benefits can be claimed only if Social Security payments have been made. Wages earned are converted into credits, and workers can earn up to four credits annually. Most benefit claims require 40 credits, representing 10 years of work. Disability claims and benefits for the families of deceased workers have lower restrictions.
Of the 52 million people in the U.S. receiving Social Security benefits in 2010, more than two-thirds were retirees and their families. The retirement age has changed over the decades and is different depending on the year of your birth. For instance, people born before 1938 were able to retire at 65, those born in 1943–1954 become eligible at 66, and those born after 1959 are eligible at 67. For those born between these periods, eligibility is staggered, adding two months for every additional year. If you were born in 1956, for example, you can retire with full benefits four months after your 66th birthday.
Early retirement benefits can be claimed as early as age 62 but at a substantially reduced value. Roughly 0.5 percent is deducted from the benefit for every month below the full retirement age, and this level is permanent. Benefits do not increase after reaching the age of full retirement.
You also have the option of delaying retirement. Every year you delay Social Security retirement, your benefits increase by a percentage dependent on your year of birth, up to the age of 70. When benefits are claimed, you will receive this increased payment.
Eligibility for Social Security disability benefits does not necessarily conform with other government agencies or insurance policies. You might qualify for disability benefits if you have a physical or mental condition making you unable to work. This must be a long-term condition, either lasting for more than a year or being expected to result in death. To claim benefits, you will need to provide medical records, including test results, contact information for your doctor and hospital as well as a list of all medications that you are taking. A list of jobs held during the past 15 years along with your employer's contact details and job descriptions are also required.