Social Security terms, in plain language

-- By Kylle' McKinney

By Kylle’ McKinney

Some of the terms and acronyms people use when they talk about Social Security can be a little confusing.  We’re here to help you understand all you need to know. 

We strive to explain your benefits using easy-to-understand, plain language.  The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to communicate 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.  If there’s a technical term or acronym that you don’t know, you can easily find the meaning in our online glossary at ssa.gov/agency/glossary.  

Everyone uses shorter versions of words nowadays. We do, too. Social Security’s acronyms function as shorthand in conversations about our programs and services. 

If you’re nearing retirement, you may want to know what PIA (primary insurance amount), FRA (full retirement age), and DRCs (delayed retirement credits) mean. These terms describe your benefit amount — based on when you decide to take it. If you take your retirement benefit at FRA, you’ll receive the full PIA (amount payable for a retired worker who starts benefits at full retirement age). So, FRA is an age and PIA is an amount.

Once you receive benefits, you get a COLA most years. A COLA is a Cost-of-Living Adjustment, and that will usually mean a little extra money in your monthly benefit.

What about DRCs? Delayed retirement credits are the incremental increases added to the PIA if you delay taking retirement benefits beyond your full retirement age. If you wait to begin benefits beyond FRA — say, at age 68 or even 70 — your benefit increases.

If one of those terms or acronyms comes up in conversation, you can be the one to supply the definition using our online glossary. Sometimes learning the terminology can deepen your understanding of how Social Security works for you.

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at kylle.mckinney@ssa.gov.

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