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Little known facts about Social Security

Feb 9, 2012, 8:21 a.m.

Since it was instated in 1935, Social Security has improved the lives of millions of seniors. The program has been around for almost 80 years, so people tend to think they know it through and through. However, some basic facts about Social Security benefits are still relatively unknown:

Cost-of-living increases did not always exist

Today, seniors take cost-of-living increases for granted, but this addition did not come until 1975. Before that time, Social Security benefits were only increased when Congress deemed one necessary. Today, the cost-of-living is automatically adjusted every year to keep pace with inflation.

Low income requirement

A lot of people worry that they will not be eligible for Social Security when they reach full retirement age. But the income requirement for benefits is lower than one might expect. A potential beneficiary needs to work a minimum of 40 quarters, earning at least $1,120 per quarter. This requirement can easily be met with seasonal work or even a part-time job.

More options for couples

Marriage comes with all kinds of benefits. One relatively unknown benefit of marriage is that it provides greater accessibility to Social Security payments. A spouse who fails to meet the minimum working requirements is still eligible to receive up to 50 percent of the other spouse's earnings. Also, widows and widowers can collect the full amount for Social Security benefits. Even a failed marriage may be a boon in terms of social security; ex-spouses are able to collect benefits as long as the marriage lasted over ten years.

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