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Social Security benefits based on work history

Your Social Security retirement benefit is based on

Your Social Security retirement benefit is based on your lifetime earnings. Photo Credit: iStock

I've only been able to work two days a week — about 14 hours a week — for the past eight years because I've been a caregiver to family members. More recently, I've only been able to work 10 hours a week. I'm 59 years old. What's my Social Security based on when I retire?

 

A person must work and pay Social Security taxes for a minimum of 40 quarters — i.e., 10 years — to qualify for a Social Security retirement benefit. It doesn't matter whether you work full-time or part-time. "You'd be credited for 40 quarters if you worked two quarters a year for 20 years, for example," says Jane Zanca, a Social Security Administration spokeswoman.

What's more, one quarter of Social Security credit is defined by the amount you earn, not by how many hours a week you work. In 2014, a worker who earned $1,200 was credited with one Social Security quarter. In other words, if you made at least $4,800 in 2014, you got four quarters of credit — the annual maximum for all workers.

In 2015, a worker who earns $1,220 is credited with one Social Security quarter, like last year. (The amount has risen gradually over time. In 1978, for example, $250 of earnings equaled one quarter of credit.)

The size of your benefit depends on the amount you earned and how many years you worked. The Social Security formula is based on 35 years of earnings. It always uses your highest-earning 35 years. If you worked fewer than 35 years, it uses zeros for years in which you didn't work. If you worked two quarters a year for 20 years, for example, the 35-year formula would be based on 20 years of earnings and 15 years of zeros.

THE BOTTOM LINE Your Social Security retirement benefit is based on your lifetime earnings.

WEBSITES WITH MORE INFO www.nwsdy.li/futurebenefit and www.nwsdy.li/credits

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.

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