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  • Writer's pictureChris Stein, CFP®

Question on Earning Quarters or Credits

This week we received a question about our past blog post entitled When is a Quarter not a Quarter?.  In that post I discussed a little known issue with earning “quarters or coverage” for becoming fully insured in the Social Security system.  Generally, becoming fully insured unlocks the vast majority of SS benefits and is achieved by earning 40 credits through work covered by Social Security.  The question is as follows:

Your blog post from May 4th, 2016, “When is a Quarter not a Quarter”, got me worried.  I am 63 and will have only earned 37 quarters of coverage by the end of 2017.  I know I need to get those other 3 quarters of coverage to earn my retirement benefit and also guarantee a survivor benefit for my wife.  The trouble is that I don’t know how much I will be able to work in 2018.  How far into 2018 will I need to work to get to 40?”


You are right to be pursuing those extra 3 quarters (credits).  I usually refer to them now as credits since the requirement you work in each quarter of the year to earn your “credit” went away long ago.  This means that there is no requirement at all for the amount of time you work in a year to earn your credits (max of 4 each year).

The ONLY requirements relate to earning the dollar amount required that year, AND living long enough to be credited with the quarters you have earned.  That second part was the subject of the blog post you read from May 4th, 2016.  In that tragic story, the person earned enough money, but did not live long enough that year to get the last credit they needed to generate the survivor benefit for their widow.

Earning the Last Three Quarters

For you, the job of earning your last 3 quarters is pretty straight forward.  You need to 1st earn enough in 2018.  The earnings required per credit in 2017 is $1,300, so to earn 3 credits in 2017 would take earnings of $3,900.  However, this requirement changes with wage inflation, so in 2018 this amount will be a bit higher, maybe something like $1,326 (2% higher).  If that is the case, you will need to earn $3,978 in 2018.

The 2nd thing is that you will need to live to at least the 1st day of the 3rd quarter of the year.  Even though you can earn the entire $3,978 in one day in 2018, they do not actually credit you each “quarter” until that quarter rolls around on the calendar, and then only if you are alive that day (they do not award credits to the deceased).  The 1st day for the 3rd quarter of the year is July 1st, so once you earn your $3,978 (if that is the number) you just need to remain breathing until July 1st and you will have achieved your goal of hitting 40 quarters of coverage, and at that point you will be considered permanently and fully insured in the Social Security system.

We will find out the exact earnings required to earn a quarter of coverage in the next several weeks.  At the time of this writing, we do not know the 2018 amount so my $3,978 is just my best estimate (guess).

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