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Social Security A to Z Glossary

Everything you need to know about the program that provides benefits to so many


Earliest eligibility age (EEA): This is the earliest age at which individuals can apply for Social Security benefits. For retirement benefits, the EEA is 62. For non-disabled widows or widowers with no children, the EEA is 60. For disabled widows or widowers with no children, the EEA is 50. For widows or widowers with children under age 16 and for the disabled, there is no EEA.

Early retirement age: Age 62.

Early retirement benefits. Retirement benefits claimed before full retirement age, as early as 62. Early retirement benefits are reduced for each month claimed before full retirement age.

Earnings history: See earnings record.

Earnings record: A chronological history of the amount of money you earned each year during your working lifetime. The credits you earned remain on your Social Security record even when you change jobs or have no earnings. Retirement benefits are based on your 35 years of highest earnings. Also known as earnings history.

Earnings test: Required withholding of benefits if earnings exceed certain limits and you haven't reached full retirement age. Benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 in earnings above $15,120 in 2013, if you're below full retirement age for the entire year; or $1 for every $3 in earnings above $40,080 for months during the year in which you reach full retirement age. Also known as retirement earnings test.

EEA: See earliest eligibility age (EEA).

Eligible. Meeting the age, credit and relationship (such as spouse, child and so on) requirements necessary to receive a Social Security benefit. Eligibility does not automatically enroll you in Social Security; once eligible, you'll need to apply for a benefit.

Entitled: Having completed an application for Social Security benefits for which you are eligible.

Ex-spousal benefit: A type of Social Security benefit paid to a lower-earning divorced spouse. The ex-spouse benefit can be up to 50 percent of the higher-earning spouse's primary insurance amount, when claimed at full retirement age. The couple must have been married for at least 10 years in order for the lower-earning ex-spouse to be eligible for an ex-spousal benefit.


Family benefits: See auxiliary benefits.

Family maximum: The maximum amount of combined benefits that can be paid to family members based on a worker's earnings record (generally 150 percent to 180 percent of the worker's primary insurance amount). Also known as maximum family benefit.

FICA tax: The payroll tax for Social Security and Medicare, under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). The Social Security portion has historically been set at 6.2 percent on earnings up to an annual cap for employees and employers, although Congress has approved temporary breaks for workers. The Medicare portion is 1.45 percent on all earnings, also paid by employees and employers.

File and suspend: See claim and suspend.

FRA: See full retirement age (FRA).

FRB: See full retirement benefit (FRB).

Full retirement age (FRA): The age at which you qualify for full (or unreduced) retirement benefits. The full retirement age is based on your year of birth and is gradually rising to 67 for individuals born in 1960 or later. Also known as normal retirement age.

Full retirement benefit (FRB): The benefit you receive at full retirement age. It is equal to 100 percent of the primary insurance amount. Retirement benefits increase if claimed after full retirement age, up to age 70.


Gainful activity: Work you do for pay. The Social Security Administration sets a dollar amount of gainful activity it considers "substantial" and may not award disability benefits to people who earn more than that amount. The substantial gainful activity threshold was set at $1,040 per month for 2013 ($1,740 per month for the blind).

Government pension offset: A provision that reduces Social Security spousal and widow/widower's benefits, if they're based on the earnings record of a worker who spent part of his or her career in government employment not covered by Social Security.

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