Most seniors count upon Social Security to help them with their retirement expenses, but you have to earn these benefits. A job is a big part of that for most people, but it's possible to qualify for Social Security even if you've never worked. It's also possible to be ineligible for benefits even if you have worked. If you fall into one of the following three groups, you shouldn't expect any Social Security checks to help you during retirement.

1. People who haven't earned 40 credits

You must earn 40 Social Security credits in order to qualify for benefits on your work history. In 2022, a credit is defined as $1,510 in earnings, and you can earn a maximum of four credits per year. Every year, the definition of a credit adjusts slightly due to inflation. In prior years, it was lower and in future years, it will likely be higher.

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You must work at least 10 years, though these don't have to be consecutive, in order to earn enough credits to qualify for benefits. If you don't qualify, none of your family members may claim benefits on your work record either.

2. Some divorced people

The Social Security Administration enables you to claim benefits based on your own work history, your spouse's, or your ex-spouse's in some cases. But there are special rules for divorced people. 

In order to claim on your ex's work record, they must have worked long enough to qualify for benefits, the two of you must have been married for at least 10 years, and you must not have remarried. It doesn't matter if your ex has. If your ex isn't already claiming benefits, you must also have been divorced for at least two years before you can sign up on their work record.

If you qualify for Social Security on your own, you can still claim your benefit, regardless of your marital status. And even if you qualify for an ex-spousal benefit, you may not get it if your own Social Security check is worth more than your spousal benefit, which is up to 50% of your spouse (or ex's) benefit at their FRA.

3. People who retire abroad in some countries

Retiring abroad doesn't render you ineligible for Social Security benefits, and many expatriates continue to receive their monthly benefits in other countries without issue. But there are certain countries the government won't send benefits to. These include:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Cuba
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Moldova
  • North Korea
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan

However, the Social Security Administration will sometimes make exceptions for certain individuals living in these countries if they agree to restricted payment terms. To learn more, contact the Social Security Administration to inquire how you can get benefits if you live in one of these countries.

As long as you don't fall into one of the three categories above, there's a pretty good chance you'll receive Social Security benefits when you retire. But that doesn't tell you anything about how much you'll get. If you want to earn the largest checks possible, make sure you educate yourself on how to maximize your Social Security checks as well.