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Can You Collect Social Security Benefits Even if You've Never Worked?

Preparing for retirement is becoming more difficult for millions of Americans. Many workers don't have access to a pension, increased costs of living are making retirement more expensive than ever, and student loans and other forms of debt are making it harder to save.

For those reasons, many retirees are falling back on Social Security benefits to make ends meet during their senior years. The average retiree can expect to receive more than $1,500 per month in benefits, according to the Social Security Administration, which can help them live more comfortably.

In order to be eligible for Social Security benefits, you generally need to have worked and paid payroll taxes for at least 10 years. However, there are a few ways you can collect benefits even if you've never worked a day in your life.

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1. Spousal benefits

If your spouse is eligible for Social Security benefits, you may qualify for benefits based on his or her work record -- even if you've never worked.

With spousal benefits, you can collect up to 50% of the amount your spouse is entitled to receive by claiming at his or her full retirement age (FRA). Spousal benefits do not affect the amount your spouse will receive, either. In other words, your spouse won't receive less each month if you were to claim spousal benefits based on his or her work record.

To qualify for spousal benefits, you must be married and at least 62 years old. The most you can receive is 50% of your spouse's full benefit amount, and if you claim before your own FRA, you'll receive a reduced amount each month.

2. Divorce benefits

Divorce benefits are similar to spousal benefits, except they're available to those who are no longer married. Your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, and you cannot currently be married in order to claim divorce benefits.

Like with spousal benefits, the maximum amount you can collect is 50% of the amount your ex-spouse can receive at his or her FRA. Also, you generally cannot begin claiming divorce benefits until your ex-spouse has started claiming Social Security. The exception is if you have been divorced for more than two years. In that case, you don't need to wait for your ex-spouse to begin claiming before you're eligible for divorce benefits.

Finally, as with spousal benefits, claiming benefits based on an ex-spouse's work record will not affect his or her benefit amount. If he or she has remarried, that will also not affect your ability to collect divorce benefits.

3. Survivors benefits

If you're financially dependent on someone and that person passes away, you may qualify for survivors benefits. Widows and widowers are generally entitled to survivors benefits after a spouse passes away. However, survivors benefits are sometimes available to parents, children, divorced spouses, and other family members as well.

How much you can receive in survivors benefits depends on several factors, including your age, the age of the person who passed away, and how many other family members are claiming survivors benefits. If you're a widow(er), and your spouse was receiving Social Security benefits, you're typically eligible to collect his or her entire benefit amount in survivors benefits as long as you've reached your FRA.

Social Security benefits can have an enormous impact on your retirement. Fortunately, you may be eligible for Social Security even if you haven't worked long enough to qualify for your own benefits. By taking advantage of any of these types of benefits, you can boost your retirement income with little to no effort.

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The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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