What Is a Social Security Check?

by Rod Howell
Millions of people across the United States receive SSA checks each month.

Millions of people across the United States receive Social Security checks each month. The Social Security Administration, SSA, has three benefit programs---retirement, survivors, and disability---that distribute income benefits to you if you meet eligibility requirements. Your Social Security check amounts are based on your lifetime earnings when you worked.

Information About Social Security Checks

Checks from the SSA are determined by how much you made when you worked. The SSA calculates your benefit amounts annually and notifies you via mail with a Social Security statement. Your family members may also receive a benefit check based on your earnings' record. Your spouse, dependent children and even your ex-spouse receive checks that are at least 50 percent of your benefit rate with some programs paying your spouse as much as 100 percent. There is a limit, however, to how much your family may receive. For example, your family's benefit checks may not exceed 80 percent of your full disability benefit amount. The amount received by your ex-spouse is not counted toward the maximum amount your family members may receive.

Facts About Social Security

As of 2011, more than 43 million people across the United States receive SSA benefit checks. To receive a benefit check, you must have paid into Social Security when you worked and you must have accumulated the minimum number of work credits. You earn work credits when you earn $1,120 or more during one year. If you make $4,480 in one year, you earn four work credits, which is the maximum. The three benefit programs require 40 work credits. However, you may still qualify with fewer work credits under certain situations, such becoming disabled or dying before reaching the minimum amount.

Are Social Security Checks Taxed

If your SSA checks and work earnings, dividends and other taxable income exceeds the program's limit, your benefit amounts are subject to taxation. For example, if your taxable income and Social Security check amounts to $25,000 in a year, then the IRS taxes 50 percent of your benefits at normal income tax rates. If your combined income is over $34,000, then 85 percent of your checks are taxed. If you're married, your Social Security checks are subject to taxation as well. If your combined household incomes exceed $32,000, 50 percent of your SSA checks are taxed and 85 percent are taxed if your incomes top $44,000.

How Work and Age Affect Social Security Checks

Your SSA checks are affected by several factors. You are able to work while receiving benefits from the federal agency. However, if you make more than the program's limits, your check amounts are reduced. For example, you can work and receive disability benefits at the same time. If your work earnings are over $1,000 per month---or $1,640 if you're blind---you won't receive disability checks. Your benefits may be increased or decreased depending on when you start receiving payments. For example, if you receive retirement checks before you reach full retirement age---which is 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1959 and 67 if you were born after 1960---the amounts are reduced. If you delay receiving checks to a later age, the amounts are higher.

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