By Doug Callahan

Still not exactly sure how Social Security works? That’s OK – it’s only been around since 1935. Just kidding … this stuff can be confusing. Let’s see if we can help a little.

When President Roosevelt first signed the Social Security Act, it was a reaction to the Great Depression, and all the unemployment and poverty that resulted from it. The system is designed as a way for Americans to deposit a portion of their income into a fund, which is then used to provide social insurance to the poor, disabled, and elderly. The deal made with Americans is that they pay now, but they can collect later when they are senior citizens, or in the event that they became disabled or the survivor of a deceased spouse.

To receive full retirement benefits from Social Security, you have to have put the required amount into the system, which usually requires you to have worked for at least 10 years. You can begin to receive Social Security benefits at 62, but it will be at a reduced amount. The age at which you can begin to receive full Social Security benefits depends on when you were born, but it will be somewhere between 65 and 67. Check the chart below for your exact year.

Year of Birth* Full Retirement Age
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943–1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67
*If you were born on January 1st of any year you should refer to the previous year.

Source: Social Security Online

Of course, to receive any of these benefits, you have to actually apply for them. But that can easily be done at a local office or online.

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