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How long do you have to work to get Social Security?

To qualify for retirement benefits, you need 40 Social Security credits. You earn credits by paying Social Security tax on your income, and you can earn up to four per year. In 2019, $1,360 in earnings equals one credit; you earn four credits after making $5,440 for the year. For eligibility purposes, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to earn your credits, but practically speaking most people qualify for Social Security after a decade in the work force.

Qualification for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) — benefits for people unable to work due to a significant health issue — can require as few as six credits (if you are under 24 years old) and as many as 40 (if you are 62 or over). The specific number depends on the age at which you became disabled. You’ll find the rules for SSDI eligibility in the Social Security publication “How You Can Earn Credits.”

There is no work requirement for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a safety-net program administered by Social Security that provides cash assistance for people who are over 65, blind or disabled and have very limited income and financial assets.

Keep in mind

  • The minimum income to earn work credits typically changes annually, based on national wage trends.
  • People who did not earn sufficient credits to qualify for Social Security on their own may receive benefits on the work record of a spouse, former spouse or parent.

Published October 10, 2018

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