Can I Get Social Security If I Only Worked 10 Years?

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When determining benefit eligibility of a retiree, the Social Security Administration calculates the full-retirement-age benefit by determining the retiree’s highest 35 years of earnings and plugging them into a formula that adjusts for inflation.

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But what about workers with significantly fewer years of wage earning? For example, can you get Social Security if you only worked 10 years?

The answer is yes, according to the SSA. However, just as earning and paying little into Social Security over your work lifetime will work against your benefits, having the minimum number of eligible years will affect your benefit amount when you retire.

To qualify for Social Security benefits, you need to earn credits. Specifically, you need 40 credits, earned by paying Social Security tax on what you earn. You can earn up to four credits per year. If you have fewer than 35 years of earnings, the years in which you didn’t work will be counted as zeroes in the calculations by the SSA.

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Workers who have not accrued the requisite 40 credits (about 10 years of employment) are not eligible for Social Security. Those who did not pay Social Security taxes, including certain government employees, are also ineligible for Social Security.

So, most people earn their credits in 10 years of working, but there is no time limit on how long it takes to earn 40 credits. Per the SSA, in 2022, one credit is equal to $1,510 in earnings, so you can make the maximum four credits this year after earning $6,040. That means even those who work part-time should be able to amass their Social Security credits without too much trouble.

The longer you wait to start collecting benefits and the more you made during your 35 years of eligible employment, the more you will receive upon retirement. In 2022, a worker claiming Social Security at full retirement age — 66 or 67, depending on the year you were born — could potentially receive the highest monthly amount of $3,345, around double the average retirement benefit of $1,670.95 as of July.

According to AARP, those who delay retirement until age 70 to earn the overall maximum allowable Social Security benefit payment of $4,194 per month must have earned the equivalent of at least $147,000 per year in today’s dollars throughout 35 years of employment. The average person’s Social Security check is only about 40% of the maximum.

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To see an estimate of what you’ll be getting in benefits, set up a personal my Social Security account on the SSA website. Alternatively, you can access the SSA’s benefits calculators directly. The AARP Social Security Calculator is another great tool that will provide you with a quick benefit estimate.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.
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