Why You Need Social Security Credits & 4 Job Ideas to Build Your Credits

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For whatever reason, you do not yet qualify to receive Social Security benefits, but you are old enough to begin thinking about your retirement. What can you do about that?

The most common reason people can’t qualify for Social Security is because they haven’t paid enough into the system to qualify.

Maybe you stayed home to raise children. That’s a big job for sure, but an unpaid one.

Now that the children are grown, you might want to get back into the workplace to earn Social Security benefits.

Or perhaps you worked for a public entity that had its own retirement program and did not pay into the federal system. You could retire from that job with 25 years experience, and if you’re in your early 50s, still have enough time to work to qualify for Social Security benefits.

What kind of job can you get after age 50 that will build up your credits? The simple answer is any job where the employer pays Social Security taxes — and we have  suggestions.

How Social Security Credits Are Accrued

Social Security benefits are earned through your work history. To be eligible for benefits, you must work full time for 10 years, earning a maximum of four Social Security credits a year. (You could also work part-time over a number of years and earn enough credits.)

In 2023, a worker gets one credit for each $1,640 earned, so earning $6,560 in one year gets you the four credits for the year.

Social Security taxes are taken out of your salary to fund the Social Security program. You must have 40 credits to qualify for Social Security benefits when you reach 62 years of age.

The good news is that any credits you earned over the years are still in your account even if you didn’t work for a number of years. You can add to your account by acquiring a job that takes Social Security taxes out of your salary. Go to ssa.gov to find out how many credits you already have in the system. You’ll need to set up an account first.

You can also claim Social Security through your spouse or ex-spouse (unless you’ve remarried) if you don’t have enough credits on your own, according to Social Security.

Almost Any Job Can Build Social Security Credits

Jobs where the employer takes money out of your salary to pay into the Social Security system will build your credits.

Keep in mind, though, there are jobs — such as state, county or municipal positions, and some teaching jobs — that have opted out of the Social Security program. That means jobs as public school substitute teachers or part-time work at your local city hall will not likely earn you any credits.

However, most every other job that takes taxes out of your paycheck is paying into Social Security.

So, the key to earning Social Security benefits is to get a job. If you are talking to an employer, you can ask them if Social Security taxes are taken out of your paycheck.

As stated above, as long as you are making $6,560 in a year, you are going to earn your four credits for Social Security that year. The more you earn, the more money you will get back in Social Security benefits when you are ready to access them.

What if I Have Been Self-Employed?

Self-employed people (freelancers, gig workers, contractors, etc.) earn Social Security credits at the same rate as others, up to the four credits per year.

When you indicate your earnings on your tax return from self-employment, your earnings are taken into account and you earn Social Security benefits. Your taxes to pay for your Social Security benefits are taken out of your taxes at the time you file your tax return.

Want to work part-time from home? More and more companies are offering work from home opportunities.

Jobs That Will Hire Employees at Age 50+

Many people today begin new careers at age 50 and older. The days of passing over older workers are long gone because of remote opportunities and perceptions of increased reliability for older workers.

Because the salary to qualify for Social Security credits is so low ($1,640 per quarter), most part-time jobs that take out Social Security taxes will qualify you for Social Security credits.

How many credits you need — the full 40 or something less — will determine if you need to work full-time or part-time in the limited time you have to accrue credits.

Here are some possibilities from our list of part-time jobs for retirees that will work for anyone. It’s imperative, though, that you work for a company that is taking out Society Security taxes or you are paying them yourself if you are self-employed.

  • Online tutoring. Use your skills to teach others in academic subjects or English as a second language. Many tutoring jobs are online.
  • Patient advocate. The job of a patient advocate is to assist someone who is struggling to cope with the healthcare system. A patient advocate deals with paperwork and appointments, and communicates with health care providers to get information on diagnosis, treatment and follow up procedures. These positions can be full- or part-time. Check with insurance companies or hospitals for opportunities.
  • Virtual assistant. If you’re the kind of person who loves helping others get organized, you can start a virtual assistant business. Now, you will be self-employed but as long as you are paying those Social Security taxes out of your income, you will accrue credits.
  • Security guard. While many large businesses like Target or Walmart hire security personnel from a service, small employers such as charitable or service organizations are likely to hire someone who is reliable and gives the appearance of authority. Find these jobs through searching job sites such as Indeed or ZipRecruiter.
Can you work and get Social Security? Yes, but know the limits for working while collecting Society Security so that you don’t get penalized.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Social Security Credits

We’ve rounded up the answers to the most commonly asked questions about how to accrue Society Security credits so you can get retirement benefits.

What Happens if I Don’t Earn 40 Credits for Social Security?

If you are or were married for at least 10 years, you are eligible for spousal benefits assuming your spouse is or was eligible for Social Security. Spouses and ex-spouses generally are eligible for up to half of the spouse’s entitlement. Widows and widowers can receive up to 100%. If you have not been married for 10 years or your spouse or ex-spouse is not eligible for Social Security, then you should start saving in an individual retirement account so you can draw down from your investments later in life.

Can I Buy Social Security Credits?

No. There is no way to make up for lost time with the Social Security program. You get one credit for each quarter in which you earn the qualifying amount up to four credits per year, and you need 40 to be able to someday receive your Social Security benefits.

Can I be Denied Social Security Retirement Benefits?

If you have accrued enough credits, you will not be denied benefits except under some circumstances. You will be able to collect Social Security benefits even if you move to a foreign country after you retire. 

Your benefits will be suspended if you move to any of these countries but you can collect those withheld payments later once you move to an unrestricted country.

If you are serving time in prison, your benefits may be suspended during that time, however, the general rule is that felons can receive their benefits after being released.

Can I Get Social Security if I Never Worked?

If you never had a job for which you paid taxes, then you cannot receive Social Security benefits on your own. However, you still may qualify to receive benefits after a qualifying spouse’s death. If you were self-employed and made enough money for at least 10 years, you are eligible for Social Security as long as you filed a tax return for those years. 

Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.