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Everyone born in 1929 or later needs 40 credits to be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. Since you can earn 4 credits per year, you need at least 10 years of work that subject to Social Security to become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.
When you work in a job that is subject to Social Security, your wages are posted to your Social Security record and you receive earnings credits based on those wages. The Social Security Administration uses these credits to determine your eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits and for disability or survivors benefits if you should become disabled or die.
Each year, the amount of earnings needed for a credit rises as the average earnings levels rise. In 2001, you receive 1 credit for each $830 of earnings, up to the maximum of 4 credits per year.
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