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What is Social Security and When to Apply?

What is Social Security and When to Apply header image

This blog discusses content from CBM’s Maximizing Social Security Benefits and Avoiding Mistakes webinar. To watch the webinar click here. Previous webinars can be found here. Like the content? Get alerts about future webinars here.


Anyone who gets a paycheck knows that Social Security exists, by the little tax line. But do you know how it works? An important part of financial planning is knowing where your money is going and what you will get in return. This post discusses the basics of Social Security, why it takes your money, how it works and the best way to optimize your earnings. We want to provide you with the knowledge to make smart financial decisions for your future.

What is Social Security?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Social Security Administration in August 14, 1935. It’s creation stood as a response to the Great Depression, so the elderly and disabled could find financial stability.

Social Security is a work-based system, workers give a portion of their earnings to the government and when they retire, the government gives them money back. The money put in is not the same money you receive later. Think of it as a shared bank account . Younger generations put money into the bank account and retiring generations take money out. Social Security’s plan requires a growing population, so 2 or more people pay for one person’s benefits.


This article was transcribed from our Maximizing Social Security webinar. Click here to get bi-weekly alerts on future webinars and events and follow our YouTube to view past webinars.


How Does Social Security Work?

As previously mentioned, working generations put money into the system. The amount of money put into the system matters determines whether you qualify to receive Social Security when you retire. 40 credits are required to qualify for the program. Each credit is equal to $1,640 with a 4-credit limit per year. To qualify, you must work a minimum of 10 years, paying $6,560 of Social Security tax a year.

When you start collecting from the program, you receive a determined amount of money every month for the rest of your life. The amount is based on your average indexed monthly earnings over a period of 35 years. If you worked more than 35 years, years with the lowest rate of earning will not be included.

When Can I Apply?

You have a few choices of when you can apply for Social Security. You can collect your benefits when you are:

  • 62 years old – This is the earliest age that you can begin collecting benefits. Any year before your full retirement age is considered collecting early. By collecting your benefits early, your benefits receive a permanent 7% reduction for every year you collect before your full retirement age.
  • Full Retirement Age (FRA) – Collecting your benefits when you turn your full retirement age, entitles you to 100% of your monthly benefits. FRA is determined by the Social Security Administration. The age increases a few months every year, the current FRA is 67 years old for those born after 1960 and 66 and 4 months for those born before 1960.
  • 70 years old – Waiting until after your FRA to start collecting benefits entitles you to an 8% credit to your benefits per year you waited to collect. The credits stop accumulating at 70 years old, this means if you wait until you are 71 to collect, you will not earn an additional 8% credit to your benefits. You don’t receive any benefit by waiting until after you are 70 to collect.

Although increasing your benefits by delaying when you apply may look promising, it may not be the best decision for everyone. It is important to consider your financial wellbeing, age expectancy and more, before you decide. We recommend you talk to one of our financial planners to ensure you are making the best decision for your future.

Please contact Judith P. Barnhard via our online contact form for more information about Social Security and financial planning.

Councilor, Buchanan & Mitchell (CBM) is a professional services firm delivering tax, accounting and business advisory expertise throughout the Mid-Atlantic region from offices in Bethesda, MD and Washington, DC.