What if I Don't Have Enough Credits for Social Security Benefits When I Retire?

To qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, you need to have earned a minimum number of Social Security credits based on your work history. Even if you spend several years working during your lifetime, you might not be eligible for retirement benefits unless you’ve earned the minimum number of credits required.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Without enough Social Security credits, you may need to depend on your spouse’s work history to qualify for benefits.

Not Enough Credits for Social Security Retirement

The Social Security Administration's credit system uses workers' earnings and work history to determine eligibility for retirement benefits. People born in 1929 or later need 40 Social Security work credits, which are the equivalent of 10 years of employment for which they paid taxes. Those who don’t have the required number of credits are not eligible for retirement benefits based on their work record. However, you may still qualify for benefits based on your spouse’s benefits, even if you were a stay-at-home parent who never worked. You could receive up to half of your spouse’s retirement benefit amount if your spouse is retired and you are at least 62 years of age.

Collecting Benefits as a Divorced or Surviving Spouse

Even if you are divorced, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits if your marriage lasted for at least a decade and your ex-spouse is over age 62 and not married. You must be divorced for at least two years in order to qualify for this benefit. If you are a widow or widower and your deceased spouse earned enough credits for Social Security retirement benefits, you may be eligible to collect his full benefits when you reach retirement age or reduced benefits starting at age 60.

If you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits under your spouse’s work history, you will also be eligible to receive Medicare benefits starting at age 65. Any retirement benefits you receive, including Medicare benefits, will not decrease the amount of retirement benefits your spouse is eligible to receive.

2018 Tax Law

In 2018, workers receive one SS credit for each $1,320 they earn. Up to four credits can be accumulated for the year with at least $5,280 in earnings. A frequent question asked by workers who have fallen behind in their work history is whether credits can be purchased. The Social Security Administration does not sell credits and does not allow taxpayers to broker their credits.

2017 Tax Law

One Social Security credit was worth $1,300 in the 2017 tax year. The maximum number of credits you could earn was still four. You would need to have earned at least $5,200 during the year in order to earn all four credits. The amount required for each credit increases each year to reflect the steady increase in average salaries.

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