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Social Security & Paying for Senior Housing or Home Care

Page Reviewed / Updated - November 08, 2019

Definition and Overview

Social Security is a federal program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that provides retirement income for seniors who have paid into the program. This includes nearly everyone that has worked legally in the United States. Social Security is also referred to as Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance, abbreviated as OASDI.

Social Security is commonly used as a source for covering the costs associated with long term, aging care. So common, in fact, that almost all other benefit programs assume this income for their applicants. As seniors receive payment directly from the government, they or their loved ones are free to apply those dollars toward home care, adult day care, or residential care. However, the average amount of a Social Security check is approximately $1,461 / month, which is well short of the cost of long-term care. This is especially true when one spouse of a married couple requires residential care, while the other remains in their home.

Lower income seniors may also be eligible for Supplemental Security Income and / or state SSI supplements. Learn more here.

Did You Know? There are many other government and non-government assistance programs for aging care. Search for eligible programs here.

Qualifications of Social Security

  • Age - The minimum age to collect Social Security is 62. Benefit amounts increase the longer the beneficiary delays in taking payments up until they reach the age of 70, after which no further increases are granted.
  • Health - There are no disability or health requirements to qualify for Social Security.
  • Marital Status - There is no marital status requirement. Note that one can collect social security for their deceased spouse. See Survivor’s Benefits.
  • Financial Requirements - benefits are not restricted by an individual’s net worth or their annual earnings provided they are at full retirement age.  
  • Veteran Status - Veteran status does not affect Social Security eligibility.
  • Geographic Requirements - State of residence has no impact on benefits and U.S. Citizens are eligible for Social Security even if they reside abroad. However, there are many exceptions to this rule.
  • Other - To collect Social Security, one must have paid into the system for at least 10 years. All persons legally working in the U.S. pay into the system directly from their paychecks.

Benefits of Social Security

Social Security benefits are made as cash payments directly to the individual. There are no restrictions on how the payments can be spent. The average Social Security check for a widowed, unmarried, or otherwise single retiree, as of 2019, is $1,470 / month. If a senior begins collecting Social Security at the age of 62, the maximum benefit amount is $2,209 / month. The maximum amount for an individual who begins collecting at full retirement age (the age, generally between 66 and 67 years old, at which an individual can receive retirement benefits that are not reduced in amount) is $2,861 / month. (Please note that full retirement age is also called “normal” retirement age). However, one may delay social security payments up to age 70, and if so, the benefit amount will increase monthly up until the age of 70. As of 2019, $3,770 / month is the maximum benefit for someone who starts collecting benefits at age 70.

That being said, each individual receives a different amount depending on the amount and number of years paid into the system, as well as the age at which they began to receive benefits.

To begin receiving benefits, it can take between 1 - 3 months. Benefits start in the month following the month of entitlement. Entitlement means when an individual meets the minimum age requirement and completes the application. However, as mentioned above, it can take up to 3 months to start receiving checks.

How to Apply

One can apply online for Social Security benefits, which takes approximately 15 minutes. Alternatively, other ways to apply are described in detailed on the SSA’s website.