Ever since a legal secretary named Ida May Fuller received the first retirement benefit check in 1940, women have been counting on Social Security to provide much-needed retirement income. Social Security provides other important benefits too, including disability and survivor's benefits, that can help women of all ages and their family members.
1. How does Social Security protect you and your family?
When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you're paying for three types of benefits: retirement, disability, and survivor's benefits.
Retirement benefits are the cornerstone of the Social Security program. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), because women are less often covered by retirement plans and live longer on average than men, they are typically more dependent on Social Security retirement benefits.* Even if other sources of retirement income are exhausted, Social Security retirement benefits can't be outlived. Many women qualify for benefits based on their own work record, but if you're married, you may also qualify based on your spouse's work record.
During your working years, you may suffer a serious illness or injury that prevents you from earning a living, potentially putting you and your family at financial risk. But if you qualify for Social Security on your earnings record, you may be able to get monthly disability benefits. You must have worked long enough in recent years, have a disability that is expected to last at least a year or result in death, and meet other requirements. If you're receiving disability benefits, certain family members (such as your dependent children) may also be able to collect benefits based on your work record. Because eligibility requirements are strict, Social Security is not a substitute for other types of disability insurance, but it can provide basic income protection.
You probably know the value of having life insurance to financially protect your family, but did you know that Social Security offers valuable income protection as well? If you're qualified for Social Security at your death, your surviving spouse (or ex-spouse), your unmarried dependent children, or your dependent parents may be eligible for benefits based on your earnings record. You also have survivor protection if you're married and your covered spouse dies and you're at least age 60 (or at least age 50 if you're disabled), or at any age if you're caring for your covered child who is younger than age 16 or disabled.
2. How do you qualify for benefits?
When you work in a job where you pay Social Security taxes or self-employment taxes, you earn credits (up to four per year, depending on your earnings) that enable you to qualify for Social Security benefits. In 2017, you earn one credit for each $1,300 of wages or self-employment income. The number of credits you need to qualify depends on your age and the benefit type.
- For retirement benefits, you generally need to have earned at least 40 credits (10 years of work). However, you may also qualify for spousal benefits based on your spouse's work history if you haven't worked long enough to qualify on your own, or if the spousal benefit is greater than the benefit you've earned on your own work record.
- For disability benefits (if you're disabled at age 31 or older), you must have earned at least 20 credits in the 10 years just before you became disabled (different rules apply if you're younger).
- For survivor's benefits for your family members, you need up to 40 credits (10 years of work), but under a special rule, if you've worked for only one and one-half years in the three years just before your death, benefits can be paid to