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10 fast facts about Social Security

Allworth Co-CEO Scott Hanson shares 10 things you may not know about Social Security. 


It’s interesting to me how public perception about Social Security has shifted over the years.

Let me explain: A few decades ago, when you mentioned Social Security to someone, you might notice that their face lit up.

It was as if they were pleasantly thinking, “Oh … and I’m going to get that, as well.”

In more recent years, when we host our Social Security workshops, which are by far the most popular of all our workshops, or when we have someone visit one of our offices for a free initial consultation, the Social Security questions we receive today tend to be more complex. There is more concern. And the fact is, many people are worried about pending legislative changes, or even if the program will survive another 10 years.

All that, and with over 60 different strategies for couples to apply for Social Security, let alone the expertise required to blend it with your other income in a tax-advantageous way, it’s no wonder folks are keen to learn all they can about the venerable program.  

What follows are 10 fast facts about Social Security.

#1: President Roosevelt, the Great Depression, and the birth of Social Security

Social Security was born during the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935, as part of the New Deal, which was intended to help those in need who were facing economic hardship.

#2: Your Social Security number is really a code

Your nine-digit Social Security number isn't just the luck of the draw, it contains information about where and when it was issued. The first three digits represent the area number, the next two digits represent the group number, and the last four digits are the serial number.

Knowing this can help you identify where a person's Social Security number was issued.

#3: Social Security wasn’t invented to pay everyone

Initially, Social Security excluded certain professions like farmworkers, domestic workers, and government employees. These exclusions have since been amended, making the program more inclusive.

#4: You can quickly look up your Social Security earnings history

Did you know you can review your Social Security earnings history? It's a terrific way to ensure your future benefits are accurate. You can access your statement at, the official Social Security website.

#5: 2024’s cost of living adjustment is much smaller than 2023’s

The cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is the amount (it does not happen every year) the Social Security Administration adds to your benefit to help keep up with inflation. While 2023’s was 8.7%, the COLA for 2024 is a relatively pedestrian 3.2%.  

#6 Social Security also pays benefits to non-retirees

While many people associate Social Security with retirement, it provides financial support to more than just retirees. It offers disability benefits for individuals who can no longer work, and survivor benefits for the families of deceased workers.

#7: You can work and still collect Social Security benefits

Yes, you can receive Social Security benefits and work at the same time. However, if you are younger than your full retirement age (FRA), and you make more than the yearly earnings limit amount, the Social Security Administration will reduce your benefit (though you'll eventually be 'made whole' down the line).

#8: Many folks pay taxes on their Social Security

Social Security benefits can be subject to federal income tax, depending on your total income. If your 'combined income' (a calculation which includes half of your Social Security benefits) exceeds certain thresholds, you may have to pay taxes on your benefits.

#9: Your ex-spouse may be able to claim Social Security on your record (and it will not impact you)

If you are divorced, your ex-spouse can receive benefits based on your record (even if you have remarried), but these restrictions (and others) may apply: Your marriage must have lasted 10 years or longer, your ex-spouse must be unmarried, and he or she must be at least 62 years of age.

#10: The first Social Security recipient was a secretary from Vermont

Ida May Fuller, a retired legal secretary from Vermont, was the first ever person to receive a retirement benefit check from the Social Security Administration. On January 31, 1940, Ms. Fuller, whose Social Security number was 001-01-0001, received a check in the amount of $22.54. She would continue to receive monthly benefits for 35 years, until she passed away in 1975.


I have said it before and I’ll say it again: Social Security is an increasingly complicated program and applying at precisely the best time for your unique situation, could be worth tens of thousands of dollars in extra income over the duration of your retirement.

I encourage you to schedule a consultation with your Allworth advisor if you have any questions.