Social Security is the federal government program intended to provide a basic subsistence level of income for retired and disabled workers and their families.
If you’ve worked at least 10 years in jobs or self-employment in which you paid Social Security taxes, and received at least a minimum amount of income each of those years, then you are eligible for Social Security retiree benefits.
The minimum amount of income changes each year. In 2015 it was $4,880 per year. For the current amount, see the SSA quarter of coverage page. The 10 years of work do not have to be continuous. Earning more than the minimum amount does not qualify you for more benefits.
The amount of your Social Security retirement benefits depends on two things: your average earnings during your highest 35 years of work, and the age at which you choose to start receiving benefits. If you worked at least 10 years but less than 35, then only your actual years of work are counted toward your average earnings.
The longer you worked, and the higher your earnings, the more benefits you receive. You can get a quick estimate of your benefits from the SSA here, and a more accurate estimate of your benefits based on your actual earnings records here.
You can claim Social Security benefits as early as age 62 and as late as age 70. Somewhere between age 65 and 67 is your “full retirement age” (FRA). If you start receiving benefits before you reach FRA, your benefits are lower than what they would have been if you’d waited to FRA. If you claim benefits after FRA, your benefits are increased. Find your FRA based on year of birth here.
The following pages have more information about Social Security.