How Much Does Social Security Pay at 65?

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  • How much does Social Security pay at 65? Millions of seniors rely on Social Security for retirement. Find out how much your Social Security benefit is worth.
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How Much Does Social Security Pay at 65?

The amount Social Security pays older adults partly depends on the wages a senior earned while working. The amount you get each month is also influenced by the age when you first sign up for retirement benefits. As a rule, your benefits get closer to the federal award cap the more you’ve earned from work and the later you sign up for a Social Security pension.

What Is Social Security?

Social Security is the blanket name for several federal benefit programs that tens of millions of Americans depend on for a monthly stipend. The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays benefits to eligible seniors, their dependents and survivors and people with certain medical conditions. Though there is some overlap between these groups, the support programs intended for each are separately administered and each has its own eligibility requirements.

Types of Social Security Benefits

The most widely known benefit the SSA administers is the retirement pension system. More than 64 million older adults receive a monthly payment from this program, and for many people it's the main or even sole source of support after retirement. Beneficiaries generally become eligible for Social Security pensions at age 62, though the monthly award amount is higher for seniors who delay their retirement age, with the maximum benefit being available at age 67.

If you are the widowed spouse or dependent child of a Social Security recipient, you might be eligible for benefits yourself. The SSA pays tens of millions of Americans a monthly benefit based on their relationship to a formerly eligible beneficiary who has passed away. Speak with an SSA worker to determine whether you are eligible for a survivors’ pension or similar benefit.

Many Americans with physical or cognitive disabilities receive Social Security benefits as part of a national disability support program. The amount this pays, along with any other conditions on cash support, vary on a case-by-case basis. Likewise, people with very low income may be eligible for the SSA’s low-income support program. Together, these programs are known as SSDI/SSI. Ask a program worker about how these benefits may help you or someone you care for.

Eligibility for Social Security Retirement Benefits

The SSA applies strict eligibility criteria to applicants before approving a claim for retirement benefits. At a minimum, the applicant must:

  • Be a citizen or permanent legal alien with at least 10 years of residence in the United States
  • Have a qualifying work history, which includes at least 40 work credits earned over at least 10 years of employment, during which the applicant made regular contributions to Social Security. Younger applicants may qualify for Social Security benefits with fewer credits.
  • Have reached the required retirement age, which varies with the year the worker was born. People born before 1954 may qualify for full retirement at age 66, while people born after 1960 become eligible at age 67.

Retiring at Age 65

Social Security applicants who are otherwise eligible for benefits do not necessarily have to wait until their full retirement age before signing up for the program. In 2020, workers as young as 62 may apply for retirement benefits, though applicants born after 1960 who do this may face a 30% reduction in their benefits for early retirement, as well as a 35% reduction in their surviving spouse’s benefits.

Applicants born after 1960 who wait until age 67 can expect to get their full retirement amount, while the SSA offers up to 32% more for retirees who wait until age 70 before applying for Social Security. After that, the SSA does not increase award amounts further, so there is no financial advantage for continuing to delay retirement. It's also important to apply for Medicare at age 65, regardless of your retirement date, to ensure your benefits are available at the lowest premium possible.

If you were born after January 1, 1960, and you choose to retire at age 65, you may not receive the full monthly amount you could get at 67. The exact amount awarded varies with the wages you reported during your 10 highest-earning years of work, but the standard pension amount you would have gotten at full retirement age is likely to be reduced by 6.7% if you retire at age 65. That means that if your monthly benefit at full retirement would have been $1,000, your actual payment at 65 would be $935. Though this seems like a small difference, the reduction adds up. After a year of reduced payments, your difference would total $780 less than a similarly eligible senior who got their full pension.

Social Security Benefit Limits

Social Security pays a monthly amount that varies with your age, the age at which you retire and the amount of taxable income you report during your working life. The federal government sets certain minimum and maximum limits for beneficiaries who fall anywhere within the eligible zone. For example, a worker who retired at age 62 in 1988 with minimal Social Security taxes withheld would have earned an initial benefit of $691 a month, which in 2021 was set at $1,546 a month. At the other extreme, a worker who made maximum payroll contributions from age 21 and retired at age 70 would, in 2021, earn a maximum of $3,895 a month.

Workers who were born in 1956 and choose to retire at age 65 in 2021, may be eligible for up to $2,841 a month. This is assuming your contributions to Social Security have been at their maximum since age 22. Workers who contributed less than the maximum are likely to receive less each month for retirement than the federal maximum.

How to Claim Social Security at 65

If you are eligible for Social Security benefits of any kind, you can apply in several ways. The SSA offers online enrollment through its website, where seniors and their surviving spouses and dependents can download and submit application forms.

Seniors can also apply for Social Security over the phone by calling (800) 772-1213 (TTY: (800) 325-0778). In 2020, Social Security offices may be closed to the general public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, though most offices do remain open for in-person visits by appointment only.