If Receiving SSA As A Spouse, Should I Work To Become Insured?

Q: I worked sporadically over the years and would need to work about a year more to have enough work for my own SSA retirement. I already receive Social Security through my husband’s work record. Is there an advantage to working to become insured on my own record now?  

A: This answer involves some speculation based only on the information provided in the question. Your local Social Security office can discuss your specific situation with you. 

In general, since you are already at least age 62 and receive Social Security as a spouse, working just to obtain insured status on your own record would probably not gain you much, if any, advantage. Being insured means having enough work on your own record to receive benefits.  Insured status requirements vary for Social Security retirement, survivors and disability benefits. 

People need 40 credits, also called quarters of coverage, to be insured for their own Social Security retirement. Since a maximum of four credits can be earned each year this is roughly 10 years of work.The amount of earnings needed for a credit can change yearly as average earnings levels rise. In 2012, a worker receives one credit for each $1,130 of earnings in gross wages or net self-employment, up to the maximum of four credits per year. 

Separate from being insured, SSA retirement amounts are based on a person’s lifetime earnings and computed using their best 35 years of work. If a person does not have 35 years of work, earning years of zero are added until 35 years are reached. Given the mentioned sporadic lifetime employment of so few years that you do not yet have insured status, it is probable that even once insured the retirement amount would be small and less than you already receive as a spouse. 

Another consideration is that a person eligible for benefits on more than one record receives up to the largest amount, not all of one plus all of the other. If you became eligible for a small retirement on your own, overall you would likely end up with the same amount as received now. Depending on your age at the time, if your husband dies before you, a survivors benefit to you as a widow can be about the amount he received. If you continue working, become insured, and eventually die before him, his already higher retirement benefit would not increase as a widower although a small, one-time, funeral payment of $255 could be payable. Again, this answer involves some speculation based only on the information provided in the question. You can discuss your specific situation with your local SSA office.

At a different point in life, working to gain your own Social Security insured status would be an excellent idea. Social Security is more than retirement and coverage moves with you as employers change and through life events.

As an example, if instead of already being at least age 62 and receiving Social Security benefits, say you were in the more or less 20 – 50 age range, and still needed to work about a year to be insured on your own SSA record. Here, continuing to work for your own insured status would be a very wise idea. No matter where your life experiences went, if insured you would have the protection of your own SSA retirement plus immediate survivors benefits for children or other family members if needed. Depending on whether you continued or stopped working once insured, you would also have the possibility of SSA disability benefits if poor health prevented you from being able to work.