Can You Collect Social Security Even If You Never Worked?

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Social Security is a system by which a taxpayer or employee pays into a “pot” for around 20-35 years while they work essentially funding other people’s retirement. Once they then take their own retirement, the years of paying into the system pays off, and they, in turn, are funded through younger generations’ contributions.

See: Next Year’s Social Security Checks Could Get Biggest COLA Bump in 13 Years
Find: 7 Reasons You Might Not Receive Social Security Benefits

But what if you never worked? Or contributed to the system at all?

There are several ways you can access social security funds without having actually contributed to them.

The first, and most common, is usually spousal benefits. If you had a spouse who was eligible for Social Security benefits, you can collect up to 50% of the amount they are entitled to receive. The important thing to remember here is that the benefit will be eligible to be claimed at THEIR full retirement age. In order to qualify for spousal benefits, you must be married to your spouse and at least 62 years old. A major benefit of claiming spousal benefits is that you do not reduce the amount of benefit your spouse will receive. The maximum amount you can receive though is 50% of their full benefit amount, and if you decide to claim the benefit before your own full retirement age, you will receive a reduced amount each month.

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Similar provisions apply for divorce benefits. You must have been married at least 10 years, and you cannot currently be married in order to claim the divorce benefits. This means that if you both remarried, you are not eligible. What can often happen is one spouse gets remarried while the other spouse, who is claiming social security benefits, does not remarry, which makes the unmarried partner eligible to receive their ex’s social security benefit. Similar to spousal benefits though, the maximum amount you can collect is 50% of the amount your ex-spouse can receive at their full retirement age.  If you have been divorced for more than two years, you will not need to wait for your ex to begin claiming their own benefits before you’re eligible for the divorce benefit yourself.

See: Social Security Eligibility: What It Takes to Receive Max Monthly $3,895
Find: Why Inflation’s 6% Cost-of-Living Increase to Social Security Could Be a Double-Edged Sword

Another common way to receive social security benefits without having worked is through survivor’s benefits. If you were financially dependent on a person who has died, you might qualify for survivors benefits. An example of these are widows and widowers, but this can also apply to parents, children, divorced spouses and relatives. Widows and widowers typically are eligible to receive the full benefit amount for their spouse, but other extended family members and the amount they receive will depend on how many family members are claiming for the benefit as well.

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About the Author

Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who studied post-industrial capitalist structures at New York University. She has eight years of experience with concentrations in asset management, portfolio management, private client banking, and investment research. Georgina has written for Investopedia and WallStreetMojo. 

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