iStock_000013346445MediumSocial Security was never meant to comprise anyone’s full retirement income. But it is a very important supplement to your income in retirement, and you should definitely factor Social Security into your retirement planning. As you near your retirement years, there are five things you should know about Social Security.

You need 40 work credits to qualify for Social Security. Each year that you work and pay taxes, you earn a certain number of work credits based on the amount of your earnings. Most people will earn far more than the required 40 credits before retirement age, but the bottom line is that you do have to earn at least 40 credits before you can claim benefits.

You can apply three months prior to your 62nd birthday. The earliest age at which you can apply for Social Security retirement benefits is 62. But you can actually go ahead and apply for your benefits three months prior to your 62nd birthday. This gives Social Security the time needed to process your application and begin your benefits on time. Your benefits will actually begin the month following your birthday.

You can get a bigger Social Security check. You first qualify for benefits at age 62, but if you wait until “full retirement age” you can earn a larger monthly check. Full retirement age depends upon your year of birth, but is usually between 66 and 67. You can also earn a larger monthly check by waiting beyond full retirement age to claim benefits. For each full year that you wait, up until age 70, your benefits will increase by 7 percent.

You can apply for Social Security online. Most people assume that applying for Social Security benefits will be long and painstaking process. Actually, it’s quite easy, and you can fill out the application online. It takes about 15 minutes, and most applications are simple and uncomplicated.

Your Social Security benefits are safe. You may have heard that the solvency of the Social Security system is in jeopardy. But policy makers are aware of the problem, and given the voting power of senior citizens, it’s unlikely anyone wants to be responsible for the Social Security system falling apart. Rest assured that your money will be there when you need it, and any potential problems in the system are being addressed decades in advance of any real risk.