Anyone who has worked and paid Social Security taxes may be eligible to collect a Social Security benefit. Or, if you have not worked but your spouse qualifies for benefits, you can collect based on your spouse’s work history. Children can even collect based on the work history of a deceased parent, as can dependent parents who need to collect on a deceased child’s work history.
The key to whether you will qualify for benefits is based on earning at least 40 credits. In 2018 you receive one credit for $1,320 in earnings, and you can get at least four credits per year. You must pay Social Security taxes in order for the earnings to qualify. Some state and local government employees do not pay Social Security taxes, so they do not earn credits toward Social Security.
The earnings amount required is adjusted annually based on economic conditions, so it may go up slightly each year. If you become disabled, you may be able to qualify for Social Security with fewer credits. Someone who becomes disabled between the ages of 31 and 42, for example, only needs 20 credits—or five years of work—to qualify for Social Security benefits.
If you haven’t worked at least 40 periods in which you earned the minimum required for credits for those periods, you may be able to qualify on someone else’s work history: your spouse, if you were married to that person for at least 10 years; your deceased parent, if he or she qualified for benefits; or your deceased child, if you were dependent on that child’s earnings.
Estimating Your Benefits
If you want to figure out how much your Social Security benefit will be, you can use the calculators available at SSA.gov, the official Social Security Administration website. Just click on the blue link to “Estimate Your Retirement Benefits.” This calculation will be done based on your actual earnings record.
If you prefer not to enter all the personal information online that this calculator requires, you can use the Quick Calculator. There are other calculators here, too: a life expectancy calculator that can help you guesstimate how long you will live and a retirement age calculator that estimates your benefit based on the age at which you plan to retire.
Impact of Retirement Age on Benefits
To receive full Social Security benefits, you have to wait until you reach full retirement age. For people born between 1943 and 1954, full retirement age is 66. If you were born after 1954, the retirement age gradually increases, year by year, to 67. Anyone born in 1960 or later will need to wait until age 67 for full Social Security retirement benefits.
You should make sure that your earnings are being properly reported to Social Security each year. If a mistake is made, the earlier you catch the error, the easier it will be to fix any problems. You can review your earnings history by setting up an account on the Social Security website. You can use the account while you are working to monitor your work history as well as get estimates for your future Social Security benefits. After you retire, you can use the account to manage your benefit options for Social Security and Medicare.
Once you set up an account, you can find out your estimated retirement benefits at your current age, full retirement age and at age 70. If you wait until age 70 to start collecting benefits, you’ll receive an 8 percent increase for each year that you delay taking Social Security after full retirement age. If your full retirement age is 66, that’s a 32 percent increase in benefits for the rest of your retirement.