We strive to explain your benefits using easy-to-understand, plain language. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to communicate information clearly in a way “the public can understand and use.” This can be particularly challenging when talking about complicated programs like Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare.
Take a moment to learn a few common Social Security terms and acronyms!
COLA: This stands for “Cost-of-Living Adjustment.” With COLAs, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits keep pace with inflation. Most years, your monthly benefit amount will get a COLA, which usually means extra money.
Credits: As you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn credits – previously called “Quarters of Coverage” – that count toward your eligibility for future Social Security benefits. You can earn a maximum of four credits each year. Most people need 40 credits to qualify for benefits. Younger people need fewer credits to qualify for disability or survivors benefits. For more information, see Social Security Credits at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10072.pdf.
Earnings Record: This is the chronological history of the amount of money you earned each year during your working lifetime. Your credits remain on your Social Security earnings record even when you change jobs or have no earnings for a period of time. Review your earnings record with a personal my Social Security account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.
FICA: This stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act.” It’s the tax withheld from your wages that funds the Social Security and Medicare programs.
Now, if any of these terms or acronyms comes up in conversation, you can help explain what they mean. Visit our online glossary at www.ssa.gov/agency/glossary to learn more of our terminology and deepen your understanding of how Social Security works for you.