Do You Lose Social Security Coverage If Not Working?

Q: I have worked for years and, according to my Statement, have enough credits to qualify for Social Security benefits. Do I lose this coverage if I stop working?

A: Work requirements are part of Social Security and credits, formerly called quarters of coverage, are the way work is measured to see if a person has enough work to qualify for benefits.

Having enough work means you are insured for benefits. Credits remain on your record if you stop working.

Based on total earnings from employment, you can earn up to four credits during a calendar year. In 2016, earnings of $1,260 earn one credit so earnings of $5,040 are needed for all four. Earnings for Social Security include only gross wages or net self-employment.

Over your working career, you probably will earn more than the minimum number of credits needed to be eligible for benefits. Having more credits does not increase future benefit amounts. Amounts are based on your actual Social Security covered earnings over many years, not how many credits you have over the required number.

For retirement on your own work record, you need 40 credits, about 10 years of work depending on your annual earnings. Survivors benefits have a similar work requirement with variation based on age at death.

For Social Security retirement and survivors benefits, once 40 credits are earned you stay insured even if work stops. Benefit amounts are based on work history so stopping work would reduce potential amounts.

Insured status for Social Security disability is different with work requirements including when the work took place in addition to the overall amount of work. Over time, people leaving the workforce lose disability insured status.

How long this takes varies widely with the age that disability begins and individual work history. If at least age 31 when leaving the work force, and if working steadily until then, a person might remain insured for disability for up to five years but it can be for a much shorter period. This does not concern people already receiving disability benefits.

See your Statement by creating a personal my Social Security account. The Statement shows your work history, insured status and estimated benefit amounts.