Not everyone can count on Social Security.
People who didn’t pay into the Social Security system, or didn’t pay enough into it, as well as people in certain other situations may be ineligible for retirement benefits.
Following are several types of folks who should not count on receiving benefits.
1. Infrequent workers
To receive Social Security retirement benefits, most people need to accumulate at least 40 “credits” during their working lifetime, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA).
Currently, you can earn up to four credits per year if you work and pay Social Security taxes.
So, it’s perhaps no surprise that people who didn’t work enough to qualify for benefits — including immigrants who arrived in the U.S. late in life — make up more than 80% of the people who have never received benefits, SSA data shows.
2. Noncovered workers
Not every worker pays into the Social Security system. In certain states, public employees are not covered by Social Security due to receiving a pension.
3. Certain debtors
Do you owe the government money? If so, you might have some of your Social Security benefits withheld to help pay the debt.
If you have overdue federal tax debts or federal student loans, the government can garnish your benefits, as we detail in “10 Things That Can Ding Your Social Security Payments.”
On top of that, if you owe child support or alimony, you could see your benefits diminished to cover those obligations.
4. Certain expatriates
If you retire in a foreign country, in most cases you can receive your Social Security benefits there.
However, there are some countries to which the SSA generally can’t send money. Check out the SSA website to find a breakdown of which countries fall into this category.
The SSA does make exceptions in some situations — but not for anyone living in two specific countries.
“The U.S. Department of the Treasury prohibits making payments to persons residing in Cuba or North Korea,” the SSA says.
However, if you are a U.S. citizen living in either of those nations, your Social Security benefits will be held for you and paid out when you move to a country to which the SSA can send payments.
Use the SSA’s Payments Abroad Screening Tool to see if you could receive your benefits as an expatriate.
5. Many prisoners
While persons released from incarceration may be eligible for Social Security benefits if they’ve paid into the system over the years, the Social Security Administration prohibits payments to most prisoners while they are in jail or prison, according to the SSA. Benefits are suspended for people who have been incarcerated for more than 30 consecutive days due to being convicted of a crime.
6. Self-employed people who don’t report
People who work for an employer get help reporting their earnings to the Social Security Administration and paying their Social Security taxes.
Specifically, employers do all the following on behalf of workers:
- Report workers’ wages to the SSA so that workers receive the Social Security credits they earned.
- Deduct half of workers’ Social Security taxes — 6.2% — from workers’ paychecks and send the money to the IRS.
- Match the workers’ half of their Social Security taxes — another 6.2% — and send the money to the IRS.
However, self-employed people are required to report their own wages and pay the full 12.4% in Social Security taxes to the IRS. This includes submitting an IRS form known as Schedule SE.
The SSA explains:
“If your net earnings are $400 or more in a year, you must report your earnings on Schedule SE, in addition to the other tax forms you must file. … Even if you don’t owe any income tax, you must complete Form 1040 and Schedule SE to pay self-employment Social Security tax. This is true even if you already get Social Security benefits.”
If you’re self-employed but aren’t reporting all your earnings or aren’t paying Social Security taxes, you likely aren’t building up Social Security credits — or aren’t building up as many as you should. Depending on the severity of your situation, you could end up not receiving retirement benefits later.