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Social Security and How It Works

Social Security provides you with a source of income when you retire or if you cannot work due to a disability. It can also support your legal dependents (spouse, children, or parents) with benefits in the event of your death.

What’s Social Security?

Social Security is a program run by the federal government. The program works by using taxes paid into a trust fund to provide benefits to people who are eligible. You’ll need a Social Security number when you apply for a job.

Find how to apply for a Social Security number or to replace your Social Security card.

How do benefits work, and how can I qualify?

While you work, you pay Social Security taxes. This tax money goes into a trust fund that pays benefits to:

  • Those who are currently retired

  • People with disabilities

  • The surviving spouses and children of workers who have died

Each year you work, you’ll get credits to help you become eligible for benefits when it’s time for you to retire. Find all the benefits the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers.

There are four main types of benefits that the SSA offers:

How to Open a “my Social Security” Account

If you receive or will receive Social Security benefits, you may want to open a "my Social Security" account. This online account is a service from the SSA that allows you to keep track of and manage your SSA benefits. You can also make changes to your Social Security record.

How to Find More Help

If you have specific questions about your Social Security benefits, you can:

Protecting Your Private Pension Benefits

Read up on how to correct calculation errors. Find out if your pension is covered if the company defaults. See if there's an unclaimed pension owed to you or someone you know.

Avoid Errors in Pension Calculation and Get Help Fixing Them

If your job is covered by a traditional pension plan, make sure you get the pension amount you're owed. 

  • Get free legal help if you're experiencing a problem with your pension plan.

Federal Insurance for Private Pensions

If your company runs into financial problems, you're likely to still get your pension.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC):

Is Your Pension Insured?

  • Search PBGC's database of insured plans.

  • If your plan is insured and it ends without enough money to pay all benefits, PBGC steps in. PBGC will pay you the money you’re owed, up to legal limits.

  • To learn more about PBGC-insured pensions, view these frequently asked questions.

Find an Unclaimed Pension

More than 80,000 people in the U.S. have not claimed the defined benefit pensions they've earned. Find out if you, or someone you know, is owed a pension.

Civil Service Retirement

If you've retired from the federal government or plan to, get to know the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)'s retirement services.  You can contact them for help with your federal retirement benefits.

Federal Employee Retirement Planning and Management

OPM has information to help you:

Thrift Savings Plan for Current Employees

As a current federal employee, you can contribute to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). The TSP offers the same types of savings and tax benefits as a 401(k) plan.

Retirement Credit for Military Service

Military service does not automatically count toward civil service retirement. To receive credit for military service performed after 1956, you must pay a deposit.

Federal Taxes on Government Pensions

Your pension or annuity payment may be taxable. Find out with the online tool Is My Pension or Annuity Payment Taxable?

Survivors of Federal Employees and Retirees

If you’re the survivor of a federal employee or retiree, you may qualify for death and survivor benefits. Visit the OPM website to report the death of a federal employee or retiree and apply for death benefits.

Saving for Retirement

Retirement requires a lot of planning and consideration. In addition to finances, you need to think about when and where you’ll retire. Experts advise that you may need as much as 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to continue your current standard of living. The exact amount will depend on your individual needs. 

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Retiring

As you plan, consider these important questions:

  • At what age do you plan to retire?
  • Can you participate in an employer's retirement savings plan? This includes 401(k) plans and traditional pension plans
  • If you have a spouse or partner, will they retire when you do?
  • Where do you plan to live when you retire? Will you downsize, rent, or own your home?
  • Do you expect to work part-time?
  • Will you have the same medical insurance you had while working? Will your insurance coverage change?
  • Do you want to travel or pursue a costly, new hobby?

Tools To Help You Prepare for Retirement

To begin planning for your retirement:

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Last Updated: February 17, 2023