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Some Oldsters Still Need Social Security Credits


There are more than a few people pushing retirement age who still do not have enough Social Security credits to qualify for retirement benefits. They almost always fall into one of two categories. They are either people who spent their career in one of the few government jobs out there still not covered by Social Security. Or they are homemakers who spent much of their lives out of the paid labor force while staying home to raise a family. Today's emails come from folks like them.

Q: I am 60 years old and recently retired following a career with the federal government. I get a civil service pension and not Social Security. I only have about 20 quarters of Social Security coverage, all of which I earned in high school and college before I started working for the government. Do you think it would be worth it to get a job and start paying into Social Security again? How much do you think I would get if I did that?

A: I'll answer your second question first. Assuming you get a job and earn the extra credits, you need to just barely cross over the 40 credit threshold required to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, my educated guess is you'd end up with about a $100 per month Social Security check. Obviously, that's not much, but then again, a hundred bucks per month is better than zero bucks per month.

Having said that, you will have to decide if it's worth it to find a job and pay all the taxes you'd have to pay to earn those extra 20 credits you need. To help you do the math, you should know that you will get one credit for each $1,220 you earn — but you can't earn more than four credits per year.

In other words, if you are working simply to earn Social Security credits, you could find work and then quit your job once you've made $4,880 in a year. Of course, you'd have to repeat that process annually for the next five years. Good luck finding an employer who will let you do that!

Q: I have worked all my life and will get a good Social Security pension when I retire in a few years. My wife, who is the same age (we're both 60) hasn't worked since we had our first child about 35 years ago. The last time we checked, she had 30 Social Security quarters. Do you think it would be wise to have her work for a few years to so she can get her own Social Security?

A: First of all, I must point out that it should be your wife, and not you or me, who decides if she wants to work or not to earn the Social Security credits she needs. But since you asked, I'll give her, and you, some food for thought.

I've answered questions like yours many times in past columns. And that answer has always been "No," at least from a Social Security perspective. If your wife worked for a few years and earned the ten extra credits she would need to qualify for Social Security, she would end up with a very small monthly check.

But she would always get more on your account anyway.

For example, let's say you are going to get $2,000 per month from Social Security. That means your wife would qualify for $1,000 in spousal benefits while you are alive and $2,000 in widow's benefits after you die. (To keep my math simple, I'm just assuming you and your wife are at least "full retirement age", or 66 years old, when you apply for Social Security.) If your wife had her own small retirement check, let's say $100 per month, she'd still get the same total benefits from Social Security. They would just come out of two different pots. She would get $100 in retirement benefits from her pot and $900 in wife's benefits from your pot. And she'd get $100 from her pot and $1.900 in widow's benefits from your pot after you die.

So the fact that she has her own Social Security benefit makes no difference in the amount of money she ends up with from Social Security. But with everyone talking about "maximizing" his or her Social Security benefits today, there is another twist to this story I never mentioned in past columns on this issue.

If your wife does earn her own Social Security benefit, you would be able to employ the "file and restrict" strategy when you reach age 66. In other words, after she files for her small benefit, you could claim half of it in husband's benefits on her account and get those monthly checks until age 70, when you could switch to 132 percent of your own retirement account. Then, at that point, your spouse could switch to wife's benefits and get half of your age 66 rate. (She wouldn't share in your delayed retirement bonus until after you die.)

Personally, I don't think it would be worth it to encourage your wife to work for about three years (that's how long she'd have to work to become "insured" for her own Social Security) just to employ that so-called maximizing strategy. But I know some financial planners would think it's a good idea, which is why I mentioned it.

Q: My 69-year-old mother, who lives with us, has never worked at a job that pays money in her life. She is a widow, but she gets no widow's Social Security because my father was the kind of guy who spent his life running one semi-legitimate business after another, somehow usually avoided paying income taxes and always avoided paying Social Security taxes. Now I own my own business (totally legitimate) and I'm wondering if I should put my mother on the payroll so that she will eventually get some Social Security?

A: Why bother? Even if you did that, your mom would be 79 before she would qualify for her first Social Security check. Have you ever checked to see if she qualifies for Supplemental Security Income? She would get SSI if her income is less than about $750 per month (it sounds like her income now is zero) and if her assets are less than $2,000.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



2 Comments | Post Comment
I don't know if you have answered this question before because I just found your website. My question is - I was married for 34 years and divorced, after several years, I remarried and have been married for 7 years. I am going through a divorce now. I am wondering if I can collect social security from my first marriage. He is living and collects social security. I am 66 plus 6 months and do not collect yet. If so, can I collect on his and mine. My SS is not great because my first husband had a bigger income.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Carol Klingel
Wed Dec 17, 2014 2:36 PM
I retired in June at 65 with a Cobra package until December 2015. I understand my "special enrollment period" for Par B will expire in February 2016 (8 months) and then a 1% penalty will begin. My question, is the 1% based on the Part B amount ($104.00)? If so and I elect NOT to enroll until my Cobra coverage expires I would I have a $10.40/month increase starting in January 2016 for the rest of my life? If all of the above is correct I would save $1000 in 2015 and break even with the penalty 8 years and 4 months after January 2016 ($1000/$10.40 =100 months)?
Along these same lines what if any are the issues I might have with Part D i.e. special enrollment and penalties?
Comment: #2
Posted by: Michael Wilske
Thu Dec 18, 2014 3:47 PM
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