En español | Social Security is an earned benefit. To collect a monthly retirement benefit, a worker must pay into the system for at least 10 years (they need not be consecutive years). Tough rules in place assure that only workers who have met the 10-year qualification can collect retirement benefits.
It is possible in some cases to qualify for a disability benefit with less work time, depending on the disabled worker's age, but having paid at least some Social Security taxes is a prerequisite.
The only people who can legally collect benefits without paying into Social Security are family members of workers who have done so. Nonworking spouses, ex-spouses, children or parents may be eligible for spousal, survivor or children's benefits based on the qualifying worker’s earnings record.
Updated January 21, 2020