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Recently I have been reading many articles about the insolvency of Social Security and how not to factor it in any retirement income.

My questions are:

  1. How many years does someone need to pay into it before being eligible to get benefits in retirement? Can someone who hasn't paid much into Social Security still be eligible?
  2. Are contributions taken into account when distributions are made or is age the only defining criteria?
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According to the Social Security Administration, you need to pay into the system for a minimum of ten years. Technically, you need to earn 40 "credits" based on your contributions for a year, and one can earn a maximum of 4 credits a year.

Benefits are calculated according to a somewhat complex formula based more on average earnings (and thus contributions) than on years of paying in to the system. A worksheet is available at http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10070.html to compute your monthly payment.

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You need 40 credits to be eligible. You can earn up to 4 credits in a year, so you'll need to work in at least 10 different years to be eligible for benefits at all. You don't have to work the full year though, but you need a certain amount of earnings in each year. More than 40 doesn't change anything.

Eligible just means you get a check, it doesn't have a bearing on how much that check is for.

For example, let's assume further that you worked for 10 years (minimum to get 40 credits) and earned the average US wage during each of those years. For example, these wage values per year:

2008 41334.97 2009 40711.61 2010 41673.83 2011 42979.61 2012 44321.67 2013 44888.16 2014 46481.52 2015 48098.63 2016 48642.15 2017 50321.89

Then at age 67, you would receive a check for $920 per month in 2019, and this would get adjusted upwards for inflation every year thereafter. This would be true if you earned the average wage in any other set of 10 years.

If instead, you had earned the average wage for 20 years, in 2019 at age 67 your monthly benefit would be $1,347.

So, the answer depends on what you mean by "full benefit".

A useful online tool you can use to play with these calculations and see how it effects your benefit can be found at https://socialsecurity.tools/ I used it to produce these benefit estimates.

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    Somewhere, you might wish to mention the maximum benefit occurs when one earns and pays into SS for a total 35 years at the maximum income for withholding. – JoeTaxpayer Jan 7 at 3:32
  • That would be $3771 if you retire at 70, $3037 or thereabouts at 67. – iheanyi Jan 7 at 9:41

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