Many seniors collect their Social Security benefits each month without really giving it much thought. And to be clear, Social Security is far from a perfect program. Not only does it have its share of flaws, but it also doesn't exactly pay so generously.
In spite of that, Social Security does a lot of good for millions of people. And that's just one reason we should all be thankful for it. Here are a few more.
1. It's pretty easy to qualify for benefits
Eligibility for Social Security hinges on earning enough work credits in your lifetime to qualify for benefits. The value of a work credit can change from year to year. In 2022, a credit will equal $1,510 of earnings, and the maximum number of work credits you can accrue in a given year is four.
That said, you only need 40 work credits in your lifetime to be able to collect benefits in retirement. Even if you work very part-time, you may still be in line for some money down the line.
2. You can qualify even if you don't work
Social Security takes care of spouses or ex-spouses who never worked and instead stayed home to raise a family (or opted out of the labor force for another reason). If you are or were married to someone who's eligible for Social Security, you may be entitled to a spousal benefit equal to 50% of what your current or former spouse receives every month.
3. You get flexibility on when you can file
You're entitled to your full Social Security benefit based on your earnings history once you reach full retirement age, or FRA. That age is 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on when you were born.
But you're allowed to claim Social Security as early as age 62, if you so choose. For each month you file for benefits ahead of FRA, those benefits will be reduced. But you still get the choice to get your money sooner. That could mean signing up as soon as you're eligible, or filing for benefits at age 65 in conjunction with enrolling in Medicare.
4. You can boost your benefits substantially by waiting
While claiming Social Security ahead of FRA will result in a reduced benefit, for each year you delay your filing past FRA, it grows 8%. That incentive runs out once you turn 70. But if you're looking at an FRA of 67, you have the potential to boost your Social Security income by 24% -- for life.
5. You could end up with raises throughout retirement
The monthly benefit you start collecting from Social Security won't necessarily be the same benefit you receive for life. Each year, benefits are eligible for a cost-of-living adjustment, and while those raises aren't always the most robust, they're certainly better than nothing.
Millions of seniors rely heavily on Social Security when their careers come to an end and it's time to retire. While you may not love paying Social Security taxes on your income and may think the program is riddled with imperfect rules, there's actually lots to be thankful for.