Social Security provides 100 percent of income for 14 percent of Americans, reports the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). As of 2010, you may apply for and receive benefits at age 62, but full benefits are not available until age 66. While there is a cap on Social Security benefits for everyone, your monthly payments depend on work history, lifetime earnings and when you retire.
Maximum Benefit Amount
As of 2010, the maximum Social Security you can draw at the full retirement of age 66 is $2,346 monthly. Individuals 25 and older receive a yearly benefit estimation and earnings document in the mail if they paid Social Security taxes at any point.
You need a minimum of 40 credits to qualify for Social Security benefits. Individuals earn credits by working and paying Social Security taxes. As of 2010, each $1,120 you earn in a year is one credit. You can earn four credits per year. Credit accrual may stop and restart based on your employment status. Your monthly Social Security payment at retirement age depends on how much you earned over the years.
You may begin receiving reduced benefits at age 62, but if you continue to work beyond that age, your benefits increase. If you draw benefits at age 62, you will receive up to 75 percent of the maximum benefit amount you would receive if waiting until full retirement age. If you choose to delay retirement beyond age 66, your benefits will increase until age 70.
Collecting Benefits While Working
You may work and collect Social Security benefits at the same time. As of 2010, you may earn up to $14,160 annually in the years prior to your full retirement year without it affecting your Social Security payment. Earned amounts over the maximum will reduce your benefits by $1 for every $2 you earn. You may earn up to $37,680 during the year you reach full retirement age. Earning over that amount results in a $1 benefit reduction for each $3 earned. After reaching full retirement age, there are no penalties for earnings.
Spouse and Dependent Benefits
Generally, a spouse qualifies for part of your benefits at age 62. Eligible minor children and disabled dependents may qualify as well. If your spouse is deceased, you may apply for widow or widower benefits at age 60. If disabled, you may draw survivor spousal benefits at age 50. Benefit eligibility for divorced couples begins at age 62 and requires at least 10 years of marriage. You may draw up to 50 percent of your spouse’s maximum benefit amount if you never worked or have low Social Security benefit potential. Additionally, you may choose to delay your own benefits to accumulate more credits while receiving spousal Social Security benefits.
Jeannie Knudson is an avid traveler with a love for the written word. She has been a freelance writer for over 15 years and holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Northern Iowa. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences on eHow and Travels.com.