Retirement benefits refer to a financial security setup intended to support a person once they have left the workforce. Social security is the government program that provides financial support to the elderly, disabled, and retired populations. 

Social security benefits make up a large part of most people’s retirement plans. Over the course of a person’s employment, they pay a portion or percentage of their regular income to the government. These payments are known as Social Security taxes, and are then issued on a monthly basis after retirement or a qualifying disability.

As retirement benefits are determined by how much a person earned over the course of their working life, higher lifetime earnings equate to higher benefits. When a person is working and paying Social Security taxes, they earn credits towards their benefits. 

The number of credits a person would need to obtain retirement benefits depends on the year in which they were born. If they have stopped working before gaining an adequate amount of credits to qualify for retirement benefits, the credits remain on their Social Security record. When they later return to work, more credits will be added.

How much money a person may expect when they retire is based primarily on the following two factors:

  • Earnings: The Social Security Administration, or “SSA,” averages a person’s earnings over the course of their career in order to determine what they will be entitled to. The size of their retirement benefits depends on how much they earned while working, as previously discussed.
  • Age:The earliest age at which a person may begin withdrawing retirement benefits is 62. The longer a person waits to withdraw retirement benefits, the more benefits they will receive.

Does My Retirement Date Determine How Much Money I Will Be Entitled To?

The Social Security Administration classifies retirement benefits into three general categories:

  • Full Retirement: This refers to a person waiting until their full retirement age before taking any benefits. When doing this, they will receive the maximum amount of payments available to them.
    • As previously mentioned, the age at which a person qualifies for full retirement benefits is determined by what year they were born. The current full retirement ages range between 65 and 67.
  • Early Retirement: Early retirement refers to a person choosing to retire between the minimum age of 62, and their full retirement age. 
    • If a person chooses to retire early, their retirement benefits are permanently reduced. Such a reduction is based on the number of months until they reach full retirement age, and ranges between 7% and 30%.
  • Delayed Retirement: Deciding to work past full retirement age results in an increase in a person’s Social Security benefits.
    • In addition to increasing their earnings, the SSA will increase benefits by a certain percentage for each additional year a person works past their full retirement age.

In order to find out how much you may be entitled to receive when you retire, the Social Security Administration sends an annual earnings statement. The SSA sends this statement to every worker aged 25 or older and calculates expected retirement benefits. Additionally, you may create a Social Security account if:

  • You are aged 18 or older;
  • You have a Social Security number (SSN); and
  • You have a valid U.S. mailing address.

With this account, you may be able to view your Social Security Statements and receive an estimate of your retirement benefits.

Is My Family Entitled to My Retirement Benefits?

If you are receiving Social Security or retirement benefits, some of your family members may be eligible to also receive retirement benefits. This could include:

  • Spouses who are aged 62 or older;
  • Spouses under the age of 62, who are caring for your child aged 16 or younger;
  • Spouses under the age of 62 who are caring for your disabled child;
  • Former spouses aged 62 or older, if they meet specific qualifications;
  • Disabled children, even if they are over the age of 18; and
  • Children up to the age of 18, or up to 19 if they are a full time student not graduated from high school.

Are There Protections for Retirement Benefits?

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or “ERISA,” is a federal law which sets standards and regulations of protection for people that are in private sector company retirement plans. ERISA provides protections for eligibility guidelines, management of funds, and wrongful termination. 

Additionally, ERISA guarantees the payment of certain benefits through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation should an employee’s benefit program be terminated, which would result in their not receiving the benefits they are owed from that program.

ERISA requires that set plans provide employees with accurate plan information and important facts regarding:

  • Plan features and funding;
  • Minimum standards for participation;
  • Vesting;
  • Benefit Accrual;
  • Management and control features;
  • Claims and appeals process for participants; and
  • Right to sue for breach of benefits.

Do I Need an Attorney for Retirement Benefits?

Laws regulating retirement benefits and Social Security can be confusing and overwhelming. A skilled and knowledgeable administrative law attorney can help you understand your retirement options, as well as which Social Security benefits you should be receiving. Additionally, should you need to appeal a denial of benefits, the attorney is able to represent you in court.