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Social Security Basics

Social Security reaches almost every family, and at some point will touch the lives of nearly all Americans. Social Security helps not only older Americans, but also workers who become disabled and families in which a spouse or parent dies.

Today, about 161 million peoplework and pay Social Security taxes and about 57 millionpeople receive monthly Social Security benefits. Most of our beneficiaries are retirees and theirfamilies—about 40 million people.

But Social Security was never meant to be the only source of income for people when they retire. Social Security replaces about 40 percent of an average wage earner’s income after retiring, and most financial advisors say retirees will need 70 percent or more of pre-retirement earnings to live comfortably. To have a comfortable retirement, Americans need much more than just Social Security. They also need private pensions, savings and investments.

The current Social Security system works like this: When you work, you pay taxes into Social Security. The tax money is used to pay benefits to:

  • People who already have retired
  • People who are disabled
  • Survivors of workers who have died
  • Dependents of beneficiaries.

The money you pay in taxes is not held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. Your taxes are being used right now to pay people who now are getting benefits. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust funds, not a personal account with your name on it.

Social Security Is More than Retirement

Many people think of Social Security as just a retirement program. Although it is true that most of the people receiving Social Security receive retirement benefits, many others get Social Security because they are:

  • Disabled or
  • A spouse or child of someone who gets Social Security or
  • A spouse or child of a worker who died or
  • A dependent parent of a worker who died.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for Social Security at any age. In fact, Social Security pays more benefits to children than any other government program.

Your Social Security Taxes

The Social Security taxes you and other workers pay into the system are used to pay for Social Security benefits. You pay Social Security taxes on your earnings up to a certain amount. That amount increases each year to keep pace with wages. In 2013, that amount is $113,700.

Medicare Taxes

You pay Medicare taxes on all of your wages or net earnings from self-employment. These taxes are used for Medicare coverage.

If You Work for Someone Else

  • You pay 6.2% 2013 Social Security tax and 1.45% Medicare tax, and;
  • Your employer pays 6.2% 2013 Social Security tax and 1.45% Medicare tax

If You Are Self-employed

  • You pay 12.4% 2013 Social Security tax and 2.9% Medicare tax

Beginning in 2013, workers will pay an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on income exceeding certainthresholds.

Where Your Social Security Taxes Go

When you work, 85 cents of every Social Security tax dollar you pay goes to a trust fund that pays monthly benefits to current retirees and their families and to surviving spouses and children of workers who have died. The other 15 cents goes to a trust fund that pays benefits to people with disabilities and their families.

From these trust funds, Social Security also pays the costs of managing the Social Security programs. Of each Social Security tax dollar you pay, less than one penny is spent to manage the program.

The entire amount of taxes you pay for Medicare goes to a trust fund that pays for some of the costs of hospital and related care of all Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare is managed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, not Social Security.

The publication, Understanding the Benefits, explains the basics of the Social Security retirement, disability and survivors insurance programs and what Social Security can mean to you and your family’s financial future.