Plan for Tomorrow | Top FAQs about Social Security
A retired couple look out over a valley together

Top FAQs about Social Security

Jul 2, 2024, 2:12:24 PM | Reading Time: 5

For many pre-retirees, understanding Social Security, the application process, and what age to claim benefits can lead to several questions. Since these benefits are only a portion of retirement income, it’s important to explore some Social Security basics and how these benefits fit into an overall financial strategy. Here are some frequently asked questions about Social Security and potential ways to supplement this income source to create a more secure financial future.

Top FAQs about Social Security

How long does it take for a Social Security application?

To avoid a gap between income from employment and retirement, it’s good to plan ahead and know the average timeline for a Social Security application. The Social Security Administration1 (SSA) recommends using their online application to apply up to four months before you want to start receiving benefits.

To apply for Social Security, necessary documents1 may include:

  • Social Security card or a record of the number
  • Original birth certificate
  • If a person is not born in the U.S., they will need proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status
  • A copy of U.S. military service paper(s) if you served before 1968
  • A copy of W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax return for last year

Once an application is submitted, the SSA will review it to ensure that all necessary information is provided. If any documents or information are missing, they may contact the applicant to request additional details. A notification will be sent in the mail regarding the SSA's decision on an application. If approved, benefit payments will be paid according to the schedule determined by the SSA.

What is the full retirement age for Social Security?

Full retirement age1 is when a person can start receiving Social Security retirement benefits and is based on the year a person was born. While you can start receiving these retirement benefits as early as age 62, the payment amount will be reduced by a percentage each month before your full retirement age. For those born on January 1st, they should refer to the previous year.


Year of birth Full retirement age
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


Choosing to delay Social Security benefits until after full retirement age can allow a person to earn delayed retirement credits and increase their monthly benefit amount until they reach age 70.

How long does it take to get Social Security benefits after applying? 

Retirement benefits are typically approved within six weeks, while disability or spousal benefits can take three to five months to approve. If an application contains incorrect or missing information, it could take up to three months before benefits begin.

How much in Social Security benefits will I receive? 

The amount a person receives in Social Security benefits depends on their age and their earnings history. For example, someone who waits to claim Social Security benefits until their full retirement age of 67 will likely have a higher payment than someone who applies at 62. The SSA quick calculator2 can estimate a person’s benefit amount based on a few factors. Each year a person works beyond their full retirement age is another year of earnings that goes on their Social Security record. This can equate to higher benefits when retirement does arrive.

However, even with a strategy to maximize Social Security benefits, it may not be enough to cover a desired retirement lifestyle or financial goals for the future. When in the early stages of retirement planning, it may be a good idea to consider your career trajectory to determine peak earning potential for future Social Security eligibility. It’s also beneficial to explore ways to supplement a retirement plan with dependable sources of income like annuities, to help increase the funds available in retirement.

Questions about Social Security retirement planning

After understanding Social Security basics and the rules to keep in mind, helpful next steps include thinking strategically about retirement and how you’d like to spend your days as a retiree. This can create a better estimate of how much retirement income is needed to turn these dreams into a reality.

How are Social Security benefits calculated? 

According to SSA, to be eligible for retirement benefits, a person needs to work at least 10 years. Benefit amounts are commonly calculated using average indexed monthly earnings, which summarize up to 35 years of a worker’s indexed earnings. By thinking ahead, a worker may be able to factor in a future promotion or pay raise to determine if they can delay retirement beyond their full retirement age and boost the amount of Social Security benefits they’ll receive.

Can a spouse collect Social Security benefits? 

Some family members may also be eligible for benefits for those receiving Social Security benefits. This includes a spouse who is 62 years or older. Key things to know about spousal benefits include:

  • Spouses who never worked or have lower earnings qualify for up to half of a retired worker’s full benefits.
  • If a person is eligible for their retirement and spouse’s benefits, the SSA pays their own benefits first.
  • If spousal benefits are higher than yours, you’ll receive a combination of benefits equal to the higher spouse’s benefit.

Married couples should plan strategically and consider working with a financial professional to determine the most effective retirement timeline and ways they can receive the maximum Social Security benefit allowed.

Do withdrawals from retirement accounts count as income for Social Security? 

Many retirees might not be able to rely solely on Social Security during their retirement. Building multiple sources of income into a financial strategy can be a smart move. Thankfully, withdrawals from a 401(k), pension plan or annuity are not considered when determining Social Security income, so choosing these options can only add to your retirement earnings.

How to supplement Social Security

Social Security will replace around 40% of a person's pre-retirement earnings.3 Since these benefits are not meant to be the only source of retirement income, building a diversified retirement strategy is essential to a more financially secure future. One way to supplement Social Security benefits is by adding an annuity to an income plan, which helps to bring growth potential and an income stream to retirement.

With various annuities that can meet a person’s unique needs, individuals can grow their retirement savings, build their assets to give to their loved ones, or turn their nest egg into a guaranteed “retirement paycheck.” Typically, you can choose between a lump sum payment or regular payouts throughout retirement. In looking specifically at a fixed index annuity, this option balances growth potential, and protection from market risk, and some can provide guaranteed income for the rest of a retiree’s life. Meeting with a financial professional to explore retirement income options that can supplement Social Security allows you to feel more confident that everyday expenses and unexpected costs will be covered and a more secure financial future awaits.

1. The United States Social Security Administration | SSA,

2. Social Security Quick Calculator,

3. Social Security Administration, Retirement Ready Fact Sheet for Workers Ages 61 – 69, February, 2023 The term financial professional is not intended to imply engagement in an advisory business in which compensation is not related to sales. Financial professionals that are insurance licensed will be paid a commission on the sale of an insurance product.