What are the Different Types of Social Security Benefits?

True Tamplin

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®
Updated on January 13, 2021

Types of Social Security Benefits

The Social Security pension system pays out a variety of kinds of benefits to millions of retirees, spouses, survivors, children, needy and disabled persons every month. 

Here is a breakdown of the different types of Social Security benefits and for whom each is intended.

Retirement Benefits

Perhaps the most common type of benefit paid out by the Social Security Administration today is the retirement benefit. 

This benefit is paid to retirees who meet certain requirements relating to citizenship, work history and age. 

This benefit is designed to replace part or all of the income that the recipient earned during their working years.

Those who qualify receive a monthly lifetime benefit that is dependent upon the worker’s earnings and the age at which the worker begins collecting benefits. 

Retirees who earned more during their working years will receive a higher income benefit. 

Those who apply for Social Security early will receive a lower benefit, while those who wait until they reach their full retirement age or later will receive a higher benefit. 

Survivor’s benefits are also available to the spouses, ex-spouses (in some cases), dependent children and dependent parents of deceased workers. 

The worker must have died while receiving Social Security retirement benefits. 

The survivor’s benefit is equal to a percentage (such as 50%) of the worker’s former monthly retirement benefit. 

From its humble origins during the Great Depression, Social Security has grown to  become a major factor for most retirees when they plan for their retirements. 

It is often the primary source of income for many retirees, particularly those who have little or no retirement savings.

Retirement Benefits

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program pays disability benefits to workers and certain family members who become disabled and qualify for benefits based on their earnings history. 

Recipients must have worked a sufficient number of qualifying quarters of employment and paid Social Security taxes on their earnings in order to qualify. 

Those who qualify based on the non-medical criteria must then meet the medical requirements to qualify for benefits. 

The worker must have a medical condition that is certified to either last for at least a year or end in death. 

It should be noted that it is very difficult to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, and well over half of all Social Security Disability applications that are received are rejected. 

It is much easier to qualify for most types of privately issued disability insurance coverage than it is to qualify for Social Security disability.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes):

  • It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and
  • It provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

SSI benefits are available to those over age 65 who meet the necessary financial requirements as well as children and adults who are disabled and meet certain financial conditions. 

Although SSI and Disability benefits are not the same, they have the same medical requirements for disability.