Social Security: What Happens If I Don’t Have 40 Credits?

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Although more than 70 million Americans were receiving Social Security benefits as of Nov. 2022, qualification isn’t automatic. If you want to claim retirement benefits, not only will you have to be at least age 62, you’ll also have to earn 40 quarters of coverage, or credits.

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You can only earn these credits by working and paying taxes into the Social Security system. But how can you earn these credits, and what happens if you don’t net the full 40? Read on to find out.

What Are Quarters of Coverage?

Social Security is funded primarily by taxes on workers. In order to qualify for your own benefits, you’ll have to work and contribute your own taxes. The Social Security Administration measures your contribution via quarters of coverage. For 2023, you’ll earn one quarter of coverage for each $1,640 that you earn, with a maximum of four credits achievable per calendar year.

Ultimately, for those born after 1928, you’ll need 40 quarters of coverage to qualify for retirement benefits.

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Does It Take 10 Years of Work To Get 40 Credits?

As you can only earn four quarters of coverage per year, you will have to wait at least 10 years before you earn your 40 credit minimum. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work 10 straight years to earn those credits, or even that you have to work four quarters of every year.

Quarters of coverage are granted strictly on income, so as soon as you earn $6,560 in 2023, you’ll already earn your maximum four quarters of coverage for the year. This is true whether you earned that amount over months, weeks or even days.

What Benefits Am I Entitled To if I Don’t Earn 40 Credits?

If you don’t earn 40 quarters of coverage, you unfortunately won’t qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. Even if you fall just one quarter short, the SSA will not pay you retirement benefits. This is why it’s important to keep track of your earnings record by creating and monitoring an online mySocialSecurity account at ssa.gov.

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Although you may not earn retirement benefits, you may be able to earn disability benefits with much fewer than 40 quarters of coverage. The amount you’ll need to qualify increases with age. For example, if you’re under age 24, you’ll only need six credits in the three years prior to the onset of your disability. But if you’re 31 or older, you must generally have earned at least 20 credits in the 10-year period immediately prior to your disability.

Note that if you are a surviving spouse or child, you may also qualify for survivors benefits even if the decedent had not yet earned their full 40 quarters of coverage, depending on their age.

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About the Author

After earning a B.A. in English with a Specialization in Business from UCLA, John Csiszar worked in the financial services industry as a registered representative for 18 years. Along the way, Csiszar earned both Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser designations, in addition to being licensed as a life agent, while working for both a major Wall Street wirehouse and for his own investment advisory firm. During his time as an advisor, Csiszar managed over $100 million in client assets while providing individualized investment plans for hundreds of clients.
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