An Overview of Social Security Benefits

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Social Security is probably a government program you are familiar with but might not know a lot about. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides four kinds of benefits programs related to retirement, disability and survivor benefits, and supplemental security income. These benefits help supplement your retirement savings, personal investments, pension, and insurance plans, and are based on a percentage of your average lifetime earnings.

Where do I go when I need Social Security Benefits support?

Several resources on are available to determine your eligibility and to apply for the different types of Social Security benefits related to retirement, disability, survivor, or supplemental benefits:

  • Retirement Insurance Benefits Information – These retirement benefits apply to individuals who have reached the minimum age of 62 years old and have paid Social Security taxes while working.
  • Disability Insurance Benefits Information – These disability benefits apply to individuals or family members who are not able to work for at least a year due to a medical condition and have not reached the minimum retirement age.
  • Child Insurance Benefits Information –These disability and survivor benefits apply to children typically under the age of 18 years old who are not married and dependent on a parent. They also apply to children 18-19 years old who are full time students up to 12th grade or children 18 and older who have a disability that began prior to turning 22 years old.
  • Parent’s Insurance Benefits Information – These survivor benefits apply to a dependent parent of a deceased worker. They must be at least 62 years old and meet a series of additional requirements like receiving half of their support from the deceased worker at certain points in time.
  • Supplemental Security Income Information – These supplemental benefits apply to adults who are 65 and older with limited income and resources, as well as adults and children with a disability and limited income and resources. This program is not supported by Social Security taxes.

A great resource as well is’s Benefit Eligibility Finder tool. This tool can direct you to different benefits you may be eligible to receive and where you can apply for them.

For more on how to prepare for Social Security benefits, visit the SSA website where you can:

Things to know before applying for Social Security benefits 

Think about when you plan on retiring and apply for benefits at least four months prior to when you’d like the benefits to start. You’ll also need to provide documentation such as:

  • Your Social Security card (or a record of your number)
  • Your birth certificate
  • Your children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers (if you’re applying for them)
  • Proof of U. S. citizenship or lawful immigration status if you (or a child) weren’t born in the United States.
  • Your spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security number if they’re applying for benefits based on your earnings.
  • Your marriage certificate (if signing up on a spouse’s earnings or if your spouse is signing up on your earnings).
  • Your military discharge papers if you have done military service.
  • Your most recent W-2 form, or your tax return, if you’re self-employed

After you’ve compiled the documentation needed to apply for Social Security benefits, be sure to reference additional information from the SSA that would be beneficial. Recommended resources include managing your Social Security benefitslocating different offices for SSA support and a frequently asked questions page. There’s also a contact page for Social Security.