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Social Security A to Z Glossary

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

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SECA tax: The payroll tax for Social Security and Medicare paid by the self-employed under the Self-Employment Contributions Act (SECA). The Social Security portion has historically been set at 12.4 percent on net earnings up to an annual cap, although Congress has approved temporary breaks. The Medicare portion is 2.9 percent on net earnings (uncapped).

Social Security: Social Security is based on a simple concept: While you work, you pay taxes into the Social Security system, and when you retire or become disabled, you, your spouse and your dependent children receive monthly benefits that are based on your reported earnings.

Social Security Act: A 1935 federal law that created the Social Security program. The original act included benefits for retirees and the unemployed, among other provisions.

Social Security Administration (SSA): The agency that runs Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and enrollment in Medicare. The headquarters is in Baltimore, and field offices are in communities across all 50 states and U.S. territories.

Social Security Handbook: A comprehensive guide to Social Security and its regulations, written for the public. New versions of the handbook are available only online: www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/handbook.

Social Security number: The nine-digit identifier for Social Security, usually assigned during infancy.

Spousal benefit: A type of Social Security benefit paid to spouses, as well as former spouses whose marriage lasted at least 10 years. The amount is up to 50 percent of the worker's full retirement benefit, when claimed at the spouse's full retirement age. Also known as spouse benefit.

Spouse benefit: See spousal benefit.

Statement: A personal summary of Social Security benefits you have earned and projections for the future. You can get your statement by creating a "my Social Security" account online at socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): A cash assistance program run by the Social Security Administration for low-income individuals, including those who are age 65 and older, blind or disabled. SSI is funded by general tax revenue, not Social Security taxes.

Survivor benefits: A type of Social Security benefit paid to surviving spouses, children and dependent elderly parents, based on the earnings record of a worker who dies. Also known as widow(er) benefit.

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