Reasons Why You May Not Get Social Security When You Need It Most

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Social Security benefits serve as a lifeline for millions of retirees, but it is a fact that not every retiree receives it. In other words, not everyone is eligible to receive Social Security benefits. So, if you plan to depend significantly on Social Security benefits, you need to make sure that you qualify for it. To help you stay on track, detailed below are the common reasons you may not get Social Security.  

Reasons Why You May Not Get Social Security

The Social Security program has its own set of rules and regulations. It is crucial that you adhere to these to make sure you qualify for the benefits. Rather than realizing that you don’t qualify for Social Security at the time of claiming the benefits, it is better to know beforehand the requirements for it. This will allow you to rectify the issues (if any) or craft other financial plans for retirement.

Following are the reasons why you may not get Social Security:

You Haven’t Worked Enough

To qualify for the benefits, you must have worked long enough to earn 40 credits. A person can earn up to four credits per year. This means you should work for 10 full years to qualify for the benefits. In 2023, you get one credit for every $1,640 in wages or self-employment income.

You Owe Money

Many types of debts can reduce your Social Security benefits. If you owe a lot of money in these debts, you end up with little or no Social Security at all. For instance, if you haven’t paid your federal student loan, the government can use your Social Security to repay your debt.

Also, the federal government can chip away 15% of your benefits if you owe back taxes. Additionally, your benefits can be used if you owe alimony or child support payments.

You Moved To A Country Where You’re Not Eligible For Benefits

If you’re eligible for the benefits but you move outside of the U.S., you may still be able to collect the benefits, in most countries. There are, however, some countries where you won’t be able to receive the benefits.

For example, the government doesn’t allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) to send benefit payments to U.S. citizens in Cuba or North Korea. Other restricted countries where a U.S. citizen may not receive benefits are Moldova, Tajikistan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. Some beneficiaries, however, may still receive benefits in these countries. 

If you plan to retire outside the U.S. (and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands or American Samoa), it is recommended that you check the SSA’s “Payments Abroad Screening Tool” to determine whether or not you will receive the benefits in that country.

Your Job Doesn’t Qualify You For Benefits

Some categories of government employees may not qualify for Social Security benefits. Rather, such employees pay into and receive state-funded pension plans. The employees that fall into this category are:

  • Government Employees hired before 1984. Such employees are entitled to pensions under the old Civil Service Retirement System.
  • Railroad employees.
  • Foreign residents in the U.S., who work for their home government. These include ambassadors, employees of international organizations such as the United Nations, and more.
  • Most safety personnel/first responders (police and firefighters) and many K-12 teachers.

You Aren’t Paying Self-Employment Tax

If you are self-employed, you are required to pay directly into Social Security twice – as an individual and on behalf of your business. So, if you either fail to file a tax return or file it incorrectly, it may hamper your chances of qualifying for the benefits.     

You’re Divorced

If you are divorced and don’t qualify for the benefits based on your own work records, you may get no benefits at all. There are, however, a few requirements that you need to meet in order to qualify for half of your ex-spouse’s benefits.

To claim your ex-spouse’s benefits, you must have been married for more than 10 years, be at least 62 years old, and made less money and benefits than your ex-spouse.

You’re An Immigrant

If you are an immigrant who moved to the U.S. after working for some years in your home country and, thus, wasn’t able to earn the needed 40 work credits, then you won’t get the benefits at retirement. 

There is, however, one exception to it. You can earn six work credits in the U.S., which could entitle you to prorated U.S. benefits. If the U.S. has a “totalization agreement” with your home country, then your U.S. work credits will be combined with prorated benefits from your home country.

You Failed The Social Security Earnings Test

Failing the Social Security earnings test doesn’t disqualify you from claiming or receiving the benefits; rather it reduces your benefits for some time.

Early retirees still working need to pass the Social Security earnings test to qualify for the benefits. This test determines how much of your benefit the SSA should withhold. The SSA evaluates your monthly earnings to see if they are below the threshold rate.

If the earnings are below the threshold rate, you get the full retirement benefit for that month, and if not, your benefits are reduced. Thus, it is important that you plan carefully so that your Social Security check is not withheld.

It must be noted that there is no such test once you reach full retirement age. Moreover, the benefits the SSA forfeited earlier are returned once you reach full retirement age.

Final Words

So, these are why you may not get Social Security. It is wise to double check if you are in any of the above situations to ensure that you’re entitled to Social Security benefits. If you take care to avoid the above situations, you can easily avoid any Social Security surprises at the time of claiming it.