Social Security is a complex system with many guidelines that may or may not apply to your individual situation.

To help you make sense of Social Security rules and processes, MERS held a Facebook Live session with Vonda VanTil from the Social Security Administration. She provided answers to questions that our staff frequently hear when they are meeting with participants and took questions from viewers during the session.

Here is some information that was covered that will help you navigate the system when the time comes to collect a benefit.

Q: How do I become eligible to collect a Social Security benefit?

A: In order to earn a benefit, you must work and pay into the system and earn “credits” throughout your working years. In 2018, you receive one credit for each $1,320 of earnings, up to a maximum of four credits per year. The total number of credits you need to qualify for a benefit depends on your age when you apply and the type of benefit application. No one needs more than 40 credits for any Social Security benefit. For more information on earning credits, click here.

Q: At what age do I become eligible to collect a Social Security benefit?

A: You can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, your benefit will be reduced by as much as 30% compared to what you would get if you waited until your full retirement age. Your full retirement age depends on the year you were born. To determine your full retirement age, click here.

If you delay your retirement beyond your full retirement age, your benefit will be increased for each month you wait to retire, up until age 70. For more information on delayed retirement credits, click here.

Q: What if I didn’t earn 40 credits in my working lifetime?

A: If you do not have at least 40 credits, you are not entitled to a retirement benefit. However, you may become entitled to additional work. Check out this publication for more information on earning credits.

Also, if you are not eligible to receive a retirement benefit based on your record, you may still be entitled to benefits on the record of a current or divorced spouse.

Q: How is my Social Security benefit calculated?

A: Many factors affect the amount of your retirement benefit. You can use the online calculator on the Social Security website to determine what your estimated retirement benefit will be.

Q: Does collecting Social Security affect my pension payment?

A: Pension payments, annuities and the interest or dividends from your savings and investments are not counted as earnings for Social Security purposes and should not affect your benefit.

Q: I’ve decided that I would like to start collecting Social Security at age 62. When should I apply?

A: You can apply up to four months in advance of your 62nd birthday. For example, if your birthday is June 15, you can submit your application as soon as February 15. Payments are always a month behind, so you would receive your first payment in July.

For more information and answers to the additional questions we received, check out our Facebook Live video.