Email FacebookTwitterMenu burgerClose thin

A Guide to Earning Social Security Credits: How Much You Need to Retire, How You Earn Them and Special Considerations


Since 1935, Americans have had the provisions of the Social Security Act at play as a big part of their retirement plans. Signed into law by President Roosevelt, the Social Security Act was designed to provide income to retirees 65 and up. Roosevelt wanted this to be “a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”

And while the act didn’t meet every goal that Roosevelt had set out to achieve, the main benefit still remains today — as a plan that helps Americans have a more financially secure retirement. But many don’t know that a revision was made to the program four decades later, putting a credit-earning system in place. And that system is still in place. Here is all you need to know regarding Social Security credits, including how much you need, the earning process and some considerations when you don’t meet all the requirements.

Have some in-depth retirement planning questions? Locate a financial advisor in your area.

What Are Social Security Credits?

The Social Security credit system is a program designed to track who is eligible for Social Security benefits once they hit retirement age (65). As a way to cover the cost of benefits for all eligible participants, the federal government taxes working Americans and in turn, they earn credits toward this benefit.

How Many Social Security Credits Do I Need?

In total, the required credits needed to receive benefits as a traditional retiree is 40. This is not a hard-set rule for everyone; there are exceptions for certain groups of people. For example;

  • Retirees: Anyone seeking retirement benefits at the age of 65 and up require the full 40 credits to qualify.
  • Disabled recipients: Anyone passing a recent work test and duration work test to be eligible for disability benefits requires 6 – 20 credits depending on age.
  • Survivors: Survivor benefits are for spouses and children of a deceased person who earned at least 6 credits.

How Many Credits Do You Get Each Year For Social Security?

You can only earn a max of four credits annually. Since 1978, this maximum has been set to ensure you work a minimum of 10 years no matter how much you earn. Depending on your income you may earn those four credits in less time than others but you can’t earn more than four credits annually.

How Can I Get 40 Credits For Social Security?


You earn credits through working and earning. The Social Security Administration taxes those earnings, and you are granted credits toward your benefits. In 2023 you will need to earn $1,640 in wages or income for a single credit, totaling $6,560 for the maximum four credits a year.

This rate changes yearly depending on Social Security benefit increases. Since there was an 8.7% increase this year, 2023 will see a significant jump of $130 to earn a single credit. To put it into perspective, other increases in previous years have been much smaller averaging $40 to $60.

How Long Does It Take To Earn 40 Credits For Social Security?

10 years minimum. Since you are only allowed to earn a max of four credits per year, you will need to work 10 years minimum to earn 40 credits. The 10 years do not have to be consecutive. Also, working more than 10 years doesn’t grant you more benefits. This means that whether you earn 40 or 80 credits your benefit amount will not increase.

What If I Don’t Hit The Required 40 Credits?

Social Security benefits will not be supplied to you until you’ve reach the full 40 credits. Anyone who fails to earn 40 credits can still receive Social Security but will have to remain working until reaching 40 credits.

Note that this is only for traditional retirees; if you fall under disability or survivor benefits this requirement can vary.

How Do I Know If I Have 40 Credits For Social Security?


By visiting the Social Security Administration website and creating a “my Social Security account,” you can track your earnings as well as receive important information regarding qualifications and benefits.

Special Considerations For Social Security Credits

There are some special considerations for earning the 40 credits that are not so widely known. After some digging here is what we found.

Military Service: If you were in the military between any of the dates below, here are the considerations the Social Security Administration offers.

  • From 1957 through 1967, the Social Security Administration will add the extra credits to your record when you apply for Social Security benefits.
  • From 1968 through 2001, you don’t need to do anything to receive the extra credits. The credits were automatically added to your record.
  • After 2001, there are no special extra earnings credits for military service.

Self-Employment: If you’re self-employed and you don’t earn your income through an employer, then you are responsible for paying social security taxes through your income taxes. You earn credits the same way you would if you were employed outside of your own personal business. If your actual net earnings are less than $400, your earnings can still count for Social Security under an optional method of reporting.

The Bottom Line

The 40 credit requirement can catch some off-guard, especially since earning those credits can become increasingly difficult as the earning rate increases yearly. While the credit earning standard is relatively low, the misconception that all Americans earn Social Security benefits is unfortunately false. You must contribute to earning the privilege of Social Security benefits.

Tips for Retirement Planning

  • Saving is important. But you likely can’t stow away enough to last all of your golden years. You’ll need your savings to grow through investments. For help with this, contact a financial advisor. Our free matching tool will put you in touch with three fiduciary advisors.
  • Taxes can take a big chunk out of your retirement income, depending on where you live. To find out if you should relocate after you hang up your hat, check our story on the best states to retire for taxes.

Photo credit: © Gouin, Photo credit: ©, Photo credit: ©