2 Fundamental Social Security Basics

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Social Security is complicated. However, to be fair, a system that large and intricate should be complicated. Luckily, while Social Security might seem intimidating to someone learning about it for the first time, the basics are easy to learn.

Additionally, there are plenty of resources to learn about how the program works, like the Social Security Administration (SSA) or Larry Kotlikoff’s Social Security column, Ask Larry, were he uses his financial expertise to answer some confusing Social Security questions.

Social Security Basics: Boosting Benefits

How do you know to boost benefits? More specifically, how do you know when to claim your benefit so that it equals a certain amount? Benefits depend on several variables, but mostly your earnings history and your full retirement age. Claiming before your full retirement age lowers your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is another term meaning your benefit payment. If you claim after your full retirement age, you can boost your benefit. Determine your PIA first, and then use a benefit calculator to see when it will be equal to whatever amount you want to set it.

Not everyone can wait to claim benefits, so deciding when to claim is a big decision. When learning the Social Security basics, it’s important to know that in particular. Carefully plan your retirement by knowing how your benefits are affected by your age.


Another one of the Social Security basics is COLA (cost-of-living adjustment). COLAs take affect in times of inflation, and their purpose is to make sure that seniors can combat a higher cost of living while maintaining their quality of life. A COLA increase, regardless of how high it is, will affect every type of benefit. It is a mistake if your benefit remains the same if a COLA increase is announced, and something to fix immediately.

To learn more about the Social Security basics, make sure to follow along with the Council for Retirement Security.

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