It's easy to think of Social Security as an entitlement program, but in reality, seniors who qualify for benefits do so by earning enough money in their lifetime and paying taxes on those earnings. To become eligible for Social Security benefits in retirement, you need to earn 40 work credits in the course of your career.
Work credits have an earnings amount attached to them, and that number can change from year to year. In 2022, more earnings will be required to earn a work credit, and that's something part-time workers, in particular, should be mindful of.
How work credits are changing in 2022
If you work full-time, you generally don't need to worry about not earning enough work credits for Social Security purposes because the most work credits you can accrue in a single year is four. And even if you only earn the federal minimum wage, if you work full-time, you'll earn a high-enough income to get your four credits in 2022.
It's part-time workers who may struggle to earn enough money to get the maximum amount of credits. This year, it takes $1,470 in earnings to snag a single work credit, or $5,880 to score the maximum four credits you can get in a single year.
Come 2022, you'll need to earn $1,510 to snag a work credit, or a total of $6,040 to qualify for four work credits. And if you only work a few hours a week, you may not hit that target. If that's the case, you may want to consider ramping up your hours or fighting for higher wages -- whatever it takes to propel yourself into a high-enough earnings category to get the work credits you're after.
One thing to keep in mind is that you only need 40 work credits in total to qualify for Social Security down the line. This means you don't necessarily need to earn four credits every year. You can earn two credits a year over 20 years, for example, if a very part-time work schedule fits best into your lifestyle. But if you're nearing retirement and haven't yet accrued your 40 credits, you may want to pick up extra hours or pursue a more lucrative job if you're concerned that you won't end up with enough work credits to qualify for benefits.
Other ways to collect Social Security
It may be the case that you don't manage to accrue 40 work credits in your lifetime. If so, that doesn't necessarily mean you won't be entitled to any Social Security income.
If you're married to someone who's eligible for benefits, you'll generally be entitled to spousal benefits, which will put some money in your pocket during retirement. You may also be eligible to claim spousal benefits against a former spouse's work record.
Keep tabs on Social Security
Social Security changes from year to year, so it's important to stay apprised of the updates that could impact you. If you work full-time, it may not matter that the value of a work credit is rising in 2022. But there are other changes to the program that could make a difference.
For example, the wage cap for Social Security is going up, so if you're a higher earner, you might lose more of your income to taxes. Furthermore, if you're working and collecting Social Security at the same time, the amount of money you can earn before having benefits withheld has increased.
Keep reading up on the ways Social Security is changing so you know what to expect.