Know the Value of Social Security CreditsPublished: Friday, June 29, 2012
During years you work under Social Security, your wages are posted to your Social Security record, and you receive Social Security earnings credits based on those wages. These credits are used later to determine your eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits or for disability or survivors benefits if you should become disabled or die.
Earning Social Security credits is a concern not only during current employment but also for prospective future employment after separating from the federal government either to continue working or to retire. CSRS-covered employees especially are interested in this issue because they may wish to work for a certain period in order to earn enough Social Security credits to draw benefits from that system.
That concern is not as significant for employees under CSRS-Offset or FERS because they earn Social Security credits during their government careers. It could be a concern for those who have relatively short working careers, however—for example, those who entered the working world later in life or who had long disruptions of their working careers that could make them fall short of the credits needed.
To gain credits, you must be paying into the Social Security system. It usually is listed on pay stubs as the “Social Security” or “FICA” deduction.
The number of credits you need to be eligible for Social Security benefits depends on your age and the type of benefit.
Retirement benefits—Everybody born in 1929 or later needs 40 credits to be eligible for retirement benefits. People born before 1929 need fewer credits.
Disability benefits—The number of credits required for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. In addition, there are requirements regarding when at least some of those credits must have been earned.
If you become disabled before age 24, you generally need six credits during the three-year period ending when your disability begins.
If you are 24 through 30, you generally need credits for half of the period between age 21 and the time you become disabled.
If you are disabled at age 31 or older, you need 20 credits through age 42 and the number phases in to 40 through age 62. Also, you must have earned at least 20 of the credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.
Survivors benefits—The family of a deceased worker may be able to get survivors benefits, even though the deceased worker had fewer credits than are otherwise needed for retirement benefits.
If you were born in 1929 or before, one credit is needed for each year after 1950, up to the year of death, in order for your family members to collect survivors benefits.
If you were born in 1930 or later, one credit is needed for each year after age 21, up to the year of death.
Regardless of when you were born, your dependent children could get survivors benefits if you had six credits in the three years before your death. Their benefits could continue until they reach age 18 (or age 19 if they are attending an elementary or secondary school full time).
Your widow or widower who is caring for your children who are under age 16 or disabled also may be able to get benefits.
Medicare—The Social Security credits you earn also count toward eligibility for Medicare when you reach age 65. You may be eligible for Medicare at an earlier age if you are entitled to disability benefits for 24 months or more. Your dependents or survivors also may be eligible for Medicare at age 65 or if they are disabled.
People who need kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant for permanent kidney failure may be eligible for Medicare at any age.