Social Security Eligibility: Who Qualifies for Social Security Benefits?
Social Security eligibility is one of the top concerns that retirees have. How and when do you qualify for Social Security? To qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, you must work in a Social Security covered job for at least 10 years. More specifically, you must earn 40 credits (you can earn 4 credits per year) to qualify.
A credit is earned when you earn a minimum dollar amount; in 2013 the minimum amount you needed to earn in order to earn a credit is $1,160. You can earn up to four credits per year, so someone who earns at least $4,640 in 2013 will earn four credits.
You do not have to earn the credits consecutively to qualify. You can earn 10 credits, leave the work force to raise a family, then return later to earn the remaining 30 credits.
Age – How Old Do You Have To Be To Qualify?
You must be at least age 62 to start collecting Social Security retirement benefits. You can start collecting benefits anywhere from age 62 up to age 70.
Do Spouses Qualify For Social Security Benefits, Even If They Haven’t Worked?
Many women (and these days even men) choose to stay at home to raise children instead of working, or to take a leave of absence from their careers, which reduces their ability to qualify for Social Security benefits. Under the spousal benefit, a spouse who has not worked or who has substantially lower earnings can receive up to as much as one-half of the retired worker’s full benefit.
Divorces spouses may also draw Social Security benefits based on their former spouse’s earnings as long as they were married for at least 10 years and they have not remarried. You must be at least 62 before you can apply for benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings.
Widows and Children of Retired, Disabled or Deceased Workers
The Social Security eligibility rules for widows is slightly different than for retirees. Widows and widowers can begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 60, or at age 50 if they are disabled.
Some children of disabled, retired, or deceased workers can also receive Social Security benefits until they turn age 18 (or 19 if they are still in high school). For those who were disabled before the age of 22 and whose parents are also disabled, retired, or deceased, those individuals can receive Social Security benefits for as long as they remain disabled.
Government Employees or Employees Who Are Not Covered Under Social Security
Many federal, state and local employees have pension plans that are not covered by Social Security. In other words, they contributed to a pension plan in place of Social Security. These employees may not qualify for Social Security retirement benefits as a result. Even if they have other jobs throughout their career where they did contribute to Social Security, their benefits could be limited under the Windfall provision.
Federal employees who started working for the government after 1984 are under the FERS system and do contribute to Social Security (and therefore qualify for retirement benefits), but employees who started work before 1984 are part of the CSRS system and do not qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.
U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens
You may be surprised to find out that you do not have to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. Resident aliens who pay into the Social Security system may qualify to receive retirement benefits, assuming they earn enough credits and meet the other criteria.
However, my understanding is that non-citizens must live in the U.S. when it’s time to collect benefits in order to actually receive them. While U.S. citizens may live in other countries and still receive benefits, non U.S. citizens must be in residence to receive benefits.