Chapter 2Benefit Eligibility

Learning objectives

  • Recognize how quarters of coverage (QCs) or Social Security credits determine a worker’s insured status for Social Security benefits.
  • Recall what constitutes a quarter of coverage or a Social Security credit.
  • Determine whether a worker is currently insured, fully insured, or permanently insured.
  • Recognize when a worker is ineligible for benefits.


A worker must be insured under the Social Security system before retirement, survivors, or disability benefits can be paid to that worker or the worker’s family. All benefits—Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability—have a work requirement that varies with the specific program. A worker is insured when he or she has completed enough FICA-covered work for a given benefit. The amount of work needed is measured by credits, also called quarters of coverage.

Quarters and credits

Before 1978, the Social Security Administration (SSA) determined benefit eligibility using calendar quarters, known as quarters of coverage (QCs), but realizing that certain workers earn virtually all their wages in a few concentrated months, the SSA adopted the system of credits. In other words, if a worker was paid maximum yearly earnings subject to Social Security, (the Federal Insurance Contribution Act or FICA maximum), that worker would be credited for the four quarters of that year, even if the earnings were paid in fewer than four quarters.

A worker can earn a maximum of four quarters ...

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