If my mom temporarily returns to work, can she draw her own social security benefits?

1 answer | Last updated: May 06, 2009
A fellow caregiver asked...

My Mom worked for the federal government and had a choice of either taking my Dad's Social Security or her federal government retirement. Since her retirement was higher,she chose her retirement. She worked and paid into Social Security for 9.5 years. She is eighty years old. If she found some minimal work to do such as stuffing envelops for 6 months, would she now be able to get her own Social Security and is there a minimal amount she must earn?

Expert Answers

Absolutely she can qualify for her own Social Security retirement benefits, and she won't necessarily have to work six months to do it. Under the Social Security system, you can earn up to 4 credits (or "quarters") per year toward qualifying for benefits. If she worked and paid into Social Security for 9.5 years, she probably earned 4 credits per year, for a total of 38 credits.

In order to qualify for her own retirement benefits, she needs a total of 40 credits. She can earn those last 2 credits she still needs by going back to work now at any job for which the employer pays Social Security taxes. Or, if she does self-employed work, she can pay self-employment taxes on her earnings and qualify that way.

In 2009, she can earn one work credit for every $1,090 she makes in reported earnings. So, she can earn the 2 credits she needs by earning (and paying Social Security taxes on) $2,180. As soon as her reported income for the year reaches that point, she will have earned 2 Social Security credits, regardless of how short or long (within the year) it takes her to earn it.