Social Security Eligibility & Enrolment


As mentioned earlier, eligibility for Social Security benefits is based on employment and payment of taxes into the Social Security System. Social Security credits (formerly called quarters of coverage) are earned as workers pay taxes. Since 1978, credits have been based on annual earnings, with a maximum of four credits per year. In 2009, one credit is earned for each $ 1,090 in earnings, up to a maximum of four credits per year, $ 4,360. In the future, the amount of earnings needed for a credit will increase as the average wage level increases. According to current SSA guidelines, a worker needs 40 credits to qualify for retirement benefits.

Employment is a key concept in determining quarters of average. A business owner who receives only dividend income but no wages achieves no quarters of coverage during that period. Farm workers, domestic workers, and those in other unique working situations may take advantage of special earnings requirements for quarters of coverage.

Dependents of retired or disabled workers are eligible for Social Security benefits based on the worker’s record. Dependents include spouses, divorced spouses, and eligible children.

Although most employees are covered by Social Security, there are some exceptions. Employees who are not covered include:

  • Most federal government employees hired before 1984
  • About 20 percent of state and local government employees, including some teachers
  • Railroad workers

Can Noncitizens Receive Social Security Benefits

In some cases, yes.

Legal resident aliens may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits. They must meet the same eligibility requirements as a U.S. citizen, and if assigned a Social Security number on or after January 1, 2004, they must meet additional eligibility requirements based on how they were admitted to or authorized to work in this country. Additionally, prior to paying benefits in any given month Social Security must have proof that the alien worker was lawfully present in the United States during that month.


Enrollment in Social Security is not automatic. Seniors must apply for benefits online at by going to a Social Security Office, by calling Social Security’s toll-free number (1-800-772-1213) and scheduling a telephone appointment. Applications for retirement benefits should be made at least 90 days before retiring. Applications for disability or survivor benefits can be made as soon as seniors become eligible. Your senior clients may need assistance with the application process. Remember, they are not very adept at online registrations and some may not hear well or understand questions by telephone.

Applicants for any type of Social Security benefit should be prepared to submit supportive documentation. This may include a Social Security card, certified birth certificate, proof of citizenship, marriage certificate, military records, or work records such as the most recent W-2 or tax return.

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.