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How many years must you have worked to apply for Social Security benefits?

The Social Security Administration manages programs to provide financial support to Americans, each of which comes with their own requirements to qualify.

Requirements to apply for Social Security benefits

The Social Security Administration was established in 1935 to provide financial support for retired workers who contributed to the program through taxes on earned income. Additional programs have been added over the years to cover benefits for disability, survivors and those with limited financial means.

While the standard amount of credits a worker must obtain to apply for retirement benefits is 40, each program has its own requirements. Here’s a look at how long you need to work in order to qualify for Social Security benefits.

Social Security retirement benefits

Initially, only workers who had contributed to the Social Security program were eligible for benefits. However, that was changed very soon after the program was created to provide so-called dependents benefits. This allowed survivors to also receive financial support in the event of a premature death of a retired worker.

Nowadays, a worker must accumulate 40 credits in order to apply for Social Security retirement benefits, or the equivalent of tens years of paid contributions. This requirement is generally met by most Americans that work in jobs covered by Social Security well before the reach the age at which they can claim benefits.

The amount that a beneficiary receives is based on the 35 years in which the contributor earned the most from work covered by Social Security, more than 90 of workers perform jobs that pay into the programs. Other factors are taken into consideration, but most crucially besides past earnings is the age at which you retire. The maximum amount that you can receive increases the longer you wait until you apply for Social Security benefits.

Social Security survivors benefits

A worker who contributes to the Social Security fund can earn up to four credits per year. Each credit is based on a set dollar amount of earned wages which is calculated by the Social Security Administration each year according to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) assessed according to the rate of inflation in the third quarter of each fiscal year prior to the increase.

While as mentioned a worker needs 40 credits to apply for retirement benefits, survivors may be eligible to submit claim on their family member’s contributions with fewer depending on the age at which they died. Each person’s situation is different, but some survivors can get benefits if the contributor has earned as few as 6 credits, equivalent to 1 and 1/2 years of work, in the three years just before their death. The Social Security Administration advises that you talk to one of their claims representatives about your choices.

Social Security disability benefits

The SSA oversees two key programs that provide financial support to Americans with disabilities. Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income are both available to individuals who meet certain medical criteria but have differing requirements to qualify.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has introduced a new procedure to speed up the decision-making process for applicants with severe disabilities. The Compassionate Allowances program identifies claims where the applicant “clearly meets Social Security’s statutory standard for disability” and grants them the support on the basis of a medical confirmation of the diagnosis alone.

Like survivor benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance may be claimed with fewer than 40 credits depending on the age at which the worker becomes disabled. Other situations may allow a person to apply for disability benefits with fewer than the maximum number of credits, such as a visual disability, survivors, children with disabilities and veterans.

Eligibility requirements for Supplemental Security Income benefits are not based on the number of credits earned but are fairly strict as the program is designed to support specific groups of low-income Americans. Recipients of Supplemental Security Income must be aged 65 or older, blind or disabled. In general recipients must be a US citizen or national, but certain categories of legal aliens are also accepted.