What are the different types of Social Security benefits?

Social Security benefits are available for retirement, but also for a wide variety of other situations. Find out if you’re eligible and how to apply.

by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

When most people hear about Social Security benefits, they think of retirement benefits. In fact there are many types of Social Security benefits that a wide variety of people are eligible for.

Retirement benefits

About 71% of people receiving Social Security benefits do so as retirees. Retirement benefits are available for people who are at least age 62 and have worked enough in their lifetime to become eligible. To be eligible, you must have earned at least 40 work credits. Four credits are available each year that you work. Although you can begin collecting partial benefits at 62, maximum benefits are not available until age 70, so it is important to understand the benefit amounts and make an educated decision. The amount of your benefit is based on an average of your earnings in the 35 years you worked the most, but there is a cap on how much you can receive.

Social Security benefits eligibility for the spouse of a living retired worker occurs if the spouse is at least 62 years old, has a child who is under age 16, or a child who is disabled. Divorced spouses are entitled to collect retirement benefits through their former spouses if the marriage lasted at least 10 years, they’ve been divorced at least two years, and they have not remarried. A spouse can receive up to half of the amount the worker receives or their own SSI benefit, whichever is higher. Note that the spouse’s benefit does not come out of the worker’s benefit. It is a separate amount.

Survivor benefits

The Social Security death benefit is a one-time payment of $255 that may be available to the spouse and children of a deceased worker. Ongoing survivor benefits are payable to the family of a worker who is deceased in the following situations. The spouse can collect SSI if he or she is at least 60 years old, if he or she is disabled and at least age 50, or if he or she is the parent of a child younger than 16 or a disabled child. Spouses receive either their widow/er payment (which may be 100% of the spouse’s amount if the survivor waits to claim it at full retirement age) or their own SSI payment, whichever is higher. The parent of a deceased worker is also eligible for a Social Security benefit if the parent is at least 62 years old and was dependent on the worker for at least 50% of his or her support.

There are also Social Security benefits for children (including adopted children or dependent stepchildren) of a deceased worker. Children are eligible for benefits if they are under 18, under 19, and still in high school, or an adult who was disabled before reaching the age of 22.

Disability benefits

Social Security is not just for retired people. Social Security disability benefits are available for people who have been working but become disabled and unable to work. If you are under 24 when you become disabled, you must have worked one and a half years during the three years before your disability began. For people over age 24, there must be a medical condition that is severe. The disability must be on is on the Social Security impairment list, the person must be unable to do any of their previous jobs, or be unable to any other job they qualify for. The disability must last, or expect to last, at least one year.

There are also benefits available for the spouse and child of a disabled worked. A spouse is eligible if he or she is at least 62, has a child under age 16 or a disabled child, or is divorced but was married to the worker for 10 years. Children (including adopted children or dependent stepchildren) of disabled workers are also eligible if they are under 18, under 19 and still in high school, or are adults who were disabled before age 22.

Supplemental security income benefits

Another special category of benefits is provided for people who are aged (age 65 or older), blind, or disabled and who have limited income and resources. To find out if you or a family member is eligible use the online screening tool.

How to apply for Social Security benefits

To apply for Social Security retirement benefits, click here. You can apply for SSDI online here. After you submit your application, a caseworker will determine your eligibility for benefits. Information about how to apply for Supplemental Security Income can be found here.

LegalZoom can help you obtain the Social Security Disability benefits you deserve. Receive a free disability benefits evaluation to find out if you qualify. If your case is accepted, you will receive help through every step of the process to ensure your claim is completed quickly and correctly.

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.