Tens of millions of Americans rely on Social Security benefits, and many workers who are nearing the end of their careers look forward to their 62nd birthdays as the earliest age at which they can start receiving monthly retirement checks. However, what many people don't realize is that Social Security benefits are available in some cases before you turn 62. Below, we'll look at several of the ways you might qualify to get money from Social Security.

Social Security cards with money.

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1. You're eligible for disability benefits.

Disability benefits are available to workers of any age, as long as they've accumulated a long enough work history to claim them. The requirements for work history vary by age, but millions of workers qualify for disability benefits.

To qualify for disability benefits, you have to demonstrate that you're unable to work for at least a year because of a medical condition that the Social Security Administration treats as a disability. Benefits typically continue until you're able to work again on a regular basis, with incentives available to encourage a transition back to the work environment.

2. You qualify to receive benefits as a child.

Qualifying children can get benefits based on a parent's work record, in some cases. To get benefits, the child must be unmarried and either under age 18, a high school student age 18 or 19, or disabled with a disability that started prior to reaching age 22. Also, the parent must be getting Social Security benefits of some kind.

Most retirement-age parents don't have minor children, so these benefits are more common in situations involving disability benefits. However, in some cases, the added money available for qualifying children can make a difference in the optimal decision of when the parent should file for Social Security retirement benefits.

3. You're married to a Social Security recipient and caring for a qualifying child.

Spouses of workers receiving Social Security can get benefits regardless of age if they're caring for the recipient's child. To get benefits under this provision, the child must be under age 16 and also receiving Social Security benefits.

Note that divorced spouses can also take advantage of this provision, and it even makes getting spousal benefits as a divorced spouse easier. If you're caring for your ex-spouse's child who is under age 16 or disabled, then your marriage doesn't need to have lasted for 10 years or more in order to get benefits based on your ex-spouse's work history.

4. You're a surviving spouse and looking to collect survivor benefits.

Finally, if you're married and your spouse dies, you don't have to wait until age 62 to collect survivor benefits. As a widow or widower, you can generally claim survivor benefits based on your deceased spouse's work history as early as age 60. If you're disabled, then an even earlier minimum age of 50 applies.

It's important to note that, if you remarried following your deceased spouse's death before you turned 60, you forfeit your ability to claim survivor benefits on your deceased spouse's work history. Instead, your only remedy is to claim any benefits available under your current spouse's work record. However, if you remarry after you reach age 60, then you can continue to receive survivor benefits. Later on, you can switch to benefits based on your current spouse's work history, if you prefer.

Take full advantage of Social Security

Social Security is complex, and there are many provisions that most Americans don't even know about. In order to get every penny of Social Security that you deserve, make sure you stay up to date about the various types of benefits you can claim, and when you become eligible for them.