When you pay into Social Security, the date you are entitled to collect benefits depends on the year you were born. If you decide to take early retirement, the amount you receive will be less than if you had waited until full retirement age, and you will be limited as to what you can earn each year, until reaching full retirement age.
The age to begin drawing full benefits is between age 65 and 67. Those born by 1937 were entitled to begin drawing Social Security at age 65, while those born in 1960 and later, must wait until age 67. Beginning with those born in 1938, each new year adds on an additional two months to the 65-year-old retirement age before being eligible, with eligibility for those born from 1943 to 1954 at age 66. Beginning again with those born in 1955, another two months is tacked on each year, with eligibility for those born in 1956 at age 66 plus four months, and those born in 1957 at age 66 plus six months, and so on, until it reaches age 67 in 1960.
The earliest you can begin collecting Social Security is age 62; regardless of what year you were born. Yet, those who take early retirement do not get full Social Security benefits. Reduction of benefits hinges on the number of months between the time you took Social Security and when you were actually entitled to take full benefits. Social Security benefits reduce a specific percentage for each of those months.
If your spouse is entitled to Social Security benefits and has passed away, you are entitled to your spouse's benefits. A qualifying widow or widower can begin drawing reduced Social Security survivor benefits at age 60, or age 50 if disabled. This age restriction does not apply if the deceased had children under the age of 16, or one of the children is disabled. If you have your own Social Security benefits, you don't receive your spouse's as an addition to yours, but you received the highest of the two amounts.
Social Security also offers disability benefits not based on age, but on disability. To be eligible you must have a medical condition preventing you from working, which lasts a year or more or is considered fatal. Two different programs serve qualifying disability applicants, which include the Supplemental Security Income program and the Social Security disability insurance program. Qualifying also hinges on how long you worked under Social Security and the age you became disabled.