The Social Security program plays a critical role in keeping Americans out of poverty. As important as this program is, we find that there is a lot of confusion about how to qualify for Social Security benefits.
Before we discuss the “ins and outs” of Social Security, let’s first be clear about what Social Security is not. You don’t qualify for a benefit simply because you are a United States citizen, nor is Social Security an entitlement program. You have to either earn it or fit in some special criteria to receive it.
Here are the five ways you can qualify to receive a Social Security benefit:
- Work to earn your retirement benefit.
The most common way to qualify for Social Security benefits is by working. In order to receive a retirement benefit, you must be at least 62 years old and have accrued 40 lifetime work credits. Up to four credits are earned each year you work. That means you’ll have to work at least 10 years to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.
It is important to note that the Social Security Administration will take your highest 35 earning years when calculating your benefit amount. That means that the longer you work and the more your salary rises, the higher your benefit will be in retirement.
- Work to receive a Social Security Disability benefit.
Another way to receive a Social Security benefit is via the Social Security Disability program. Generally you would need to have earned 40 lifetime credits before becoming disabled. However, for those that haven’t earned their 40 work credits, there is a staggered scale allowing younger adults to qualify despite having earned less than 40 work credits.
- Receive a survivor’s benefit based on your spouse’s work and earnings history
Social Security provides a survivor’s insurance protection for 90% of working Americans between the age of 20 and 49. This means that in the event of an untimely death, a surviving spouse and/or their children would be provided a benefit based on the deceased worker’s earnings history. These survivor benefits are dependent on the deceased worker’s accrued lifetime credits and the age of the surviving spouse and children.
If the deceased worker passed away prior to reaching 40 earned credits, a staggered scale exists that allows a family to qualify for a benefit if a younger worker dies. Also, surviving spouses are typically not eligible to begin receiving a payout until age 60, or age 50 if he or she is disabled. There are some special rules that apply to this, however.
- Stay married for at least 10 years.
Another way to qualify for Social Security benefits is to marry. This means that if your spouse dies you could potentially qualify for a survivor benefit as long as the survivor benefit would pay out more than what you would earn from your own retirement benefit.
If you are divorced and were married to your former spouse for at least 10 yearsyou may be able to qualify for a benefit based on your former spouse’s earnings history. You can even qualify for a benefit if your former spouse has remarried.
- Be a child of qualifying age
Finally, simply being a child under certain circumstances can qualify someone for a Social Security benefit. Generally speaking, a child can qualify for a benefit if they meet the following criteria:
- Is under the age of 18, or up to age 19 if a full-time high school student
- Is 18 years or older and disabled prior to reaching age 22
- Is unmarried
- Has a parent who is disabled or retired and eligible to receive a Social Security benefit
If a parent becomes disabled or retires, a qualifying child is eligible to receive up to 50% of their parent’s full retirement benefit. If the parent passes away, the survivor benefit paid to the qualifying child could be as much as 75% of the deceased worker’s full-retirement-age benefit.
I hope this overview helps you understand ways in which you might be able to qualify for Social Security benefits. If you would like to learn more and apply it to your own situation, call the Law Office of Sheri R. Abrams at (571) 328-5795.