The Social Security Administration, a division of the federal government, oversees the distribution of Social Security benefits. The Social Security program is meant to provide income to retired individuals who worked the required amount of time throughout their lifetime. Benefit amounts are determined by the amount of income earned while working or the amount of income earned by a spouse.
Social Security benefits are based on the number of quarters, or four-month blocks of each year, an individual worked. To qualify for Social Security benefits, an individual must have worked for a specific amount of time. For instance, individuals born after 1929 must accumulate 40 credits, or at least 10 years of work, to qualify. Individuals born before 1929 need one less credit per year to qualify. For example, a person born in 1920 needs 31 credits to qualify for benefits.
Widows and Widowers
The Social Security Administration also provides benefits to widows and widowers of qualified workers. According to program guidelines, widows and widowers may receive benefits at 60 years of age, or at 50 years of age if the individual is disabled. In situations where both individuals in the couple worked enough years to qualify for Social Security, the widow or widower may elect to receive a reduced amount of Social Security at age 60 years, or 50 years if disabled, then switch to the full amount of the other person's benefits at full retirement age. For example, a man may choose to receive a reduced amount of Social Security at age 60 years based on his deceased wife's earnings, then at full retirement age, he may choose to receive the full amount of benefits based on his own earnings.
A spouse who either did not work or has low earnings can qualify for as much as one-half of their spouse's full benefit amount. Individuals who worked enough to qualify for benefits of their own receive benefits of their own first. However, if your spouse has earned an higher amount of benefits, the Social Security Administration will pay a combination of both earnings to total the highest amount. For example, if a wife's benefit amount is lower than her husband's, the difference between the two amounts will be added to the wife's benefit amount to equal her husband's.
Individuals who were married for at least 10 years before divorcing may qualify for benefits based on their ex-spouse's earnings. The applicant must be at least 60 years of age, or 50 years of age if disabled, to qualify for benefits, unless caring for the couple's minor child under the age of 16 years or who is disabled and qualifies for benefits based on the caregivers employment record.