How the Retirement Age and Social Security Benefits Have Changed Over the Years

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In the minds of many Americans, “retirement age” is 65. And while that was also true for the Social Security Administration at one point, you might be surprised to learn that for those born in 1960 or later, the current retirement age for Social Security purposes is actually 67.

Depending on when you were born, however, your retirement age may still differ. This is because the SSA occasionally modifies the retirement age based on a number of variables, including longevity in America and the needs of the program.

But it isn’t just the retirement age that the SSA changes from time to time. The actual benefit paid is also subject to review. Given the current state of the Social Security Trust Fund — which is set to run out as early as 2033 — there’s a chance that benefits in the future could get cut by as much as 25%, or perhaps even more. Legislative action is likely to prevent some or all of these cuts, but this is the reality as things stand currently.

Are You Retirement Ready?

To help you get a feel for how the Social Security retirement age and benefits have changed over the years, here’s a look at the historical record.

Changes in the Retirement Age

For most of the Social Security Administration’s existence, “full retirement age” was indeed 65. Legislative changes in 1983 gradually increased that age to the 67 it sits at today. However, that only applies to those born in 1960 or later. Here’s the correct full retirement age based on your year of birth:

Year of Birth Full Retirement Age
1943-1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67

Changes in Social Security Benefits

Historically speaking, Social Security benefits for retirees have generally gone up every year. The process was automated in 1975, when the Social Security Administration implemented an automatic cost-of-living adjustment every year. Prior to that, the average benefit rose on an irregular basis thanks to Congressional action.

Are You Retirement Ready?

In 2023, retirees were treated to the highest COLA in 40 years, a boost of 8.7%. But as the cost-of-living adjustment is tied to changes in the annual inflation rate, retirees didn’t necessarily enjoy an increase in their quality of life. The COLA is merely meant to prevent seniors from losing ground to inflation, as they would if their benefit was fixed.

Here’s a look at how the average monthly Social Security benefit for retirees has changed just over the past 20 years:

End of Year Average Monthly Benefit
2003 $922.08
2004 $954.89
2005 $1,001.97
2006 $1,044.39
2007 $1,078.54
2008 $1,152.89
2009 $1,164.32
2010 $1,175.45
2011 $1,228.57
2012 $1,261.62
2013 $1,293.84
2014 $1,328.58
2015 $1,341.77
2016 $1,360.13
2017 $1,404.15
2018 $1,461.31
2019 $1,502.85
2020 $1,544.15
2021 $1,658.03
2022 $1,825.14

Average and Maximum Social Security Benefits for 2023

As of April 2023, the average Social Security retiree benefit was $1,834.80. The maximum amount depended on when you filed for benefits. If you claimed Social Security as early as possible — at age 62 — the maximum amount you could have received was $2,572. At full retirement age of 67, that maximum was $3,627. At age 70 — the latest age you can file — the maximum benefit rose to $4,555.

Of course, just filing at age 70 doesn’t guarantee you the maximum possible benefit. In fact, hardly anyone qualifies for that maximum because it’s not just based on when you file; it’s also based on how much you earn during your working career. To receive the maximum benefit, you must meet or exceed the annual Social Security wage base in earnings every single year for at least 35 years.

Are You Retirement Ready?

In 2023, the Social Security wage base is $160,200, so you can clearly see that you have to be an upper-income earner to hit it. It’s a rare worker who can earn at that level for at least 35 years and wait to file for Social Security until age 70. This is why few retirees actually earn the maximum possible Social Security payout.

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