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Medicare Q&A

What to Do If Years of Credits are Missing from Your Social Security Record?

Social Security Q&A always has some surprises for even long-term retirees. Did you know noncitizens can collect Social Security?

Sept. 12, 2012 – Your Social Security record can be missing years of your work credits – a costly error that can be corrected, according to Oscar Garcia, Public Affairs Specialist, Social Security Administration. That is one of several unusual questions he answers this week about the program, including this one, “Can a noncitizen collect Social Security?”


I received my Social Security Statement, and I have several years of work that are missing. How did this happen, and how do I correct this error?


Earnings could be missing from your record for one of the following reasons.

1. Your employer reported your earnings using the wrong name or Social Security number.

2. Your employer reported the amount of your earnings incorrectly.

3. You got married or divorced and changed your name, but never reported the change to Social Security.

4. You worked using a Social Security number that did not belong to you.

If you discover earnings missing from your record, the first thing you should do is find some proof of those earnings. This proof could be a W-2 form, a tax return, a wage stub or pay slip, your own wage records, or any other written documents showing that you worked.

If you cannot find any written documents that show your earnings, try to remember the following facts and write them down. This includes
   ● where you worked,
   ● the name of your employer,
   ● the dates you worked,
   ● how much you earned, and
   ● the name and Social Security number you used when you worked.

After you have gathered your documents or have made a list of all of the information you can remember, contact Social Security. We will work with you to correct your record. This process could take some time, depending on the information you bring us about your missing earnings. We may have to contact your employers or have you contact them.

If all of your earnings are not shown on your record, this could mean lower Social Security benefits for you and your family.  We will take every measure possible to ensure that your work record reflects all of your earnings.


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Can noncitizens receive Social Security benefits?


In certain cases, yes. To qualify for benefits, all noncitizens first must meet the same eligibility requirements as United States citizens. Additionally, a noncitizen or alien worker assigned a Social Security number (SSN) on or after January 1, 2004 must meet additional eligibility requirements.

If you are subject to this provision, neither you nor your dependents can qualify for benefits based on your earnings unless you meet one of the following. You were assigned an SSN based on your authorization to work in the United States at any time on or after January 1, 2004, or you were admitted to the United States at any time as a nonimmigrant visitor for business (B-1) or as an alien crewman (D-1 or D-2).

Once an alien worker has met eligibility criteria, we must have evidence of the lawful presence of the beneficiary. That means before we can pay out benefits for any given month, we must have evidence during that month the beneficiary was either a United States citizen, a United States national, or an alien lawfully present in the United States.


I am getting ready to sign up for Social Security.  I heard I have to show you my birth certificate. I have a copy of it. Is that good enough?


It depends.  If your copy is signed by the agency that issued your birth certificate and carries an official seal, then it's acceptable. We cannot accept an uncertified photocopy.


How do I earn coverage for Social Security? I am a retired government employee and do not have all my credits. I know my Social Security retirement benefit will be reduced because of my government retirement, but I understand I would still qualify for Social Security.


You earn Social Security credits, sometimes referred to as quarters of coverage, when you work and pay Social Security taxes. The credits are based on the amount of your earnings. In 2012, you receive one credit for each $1,130 of earnings, up to the maximum of four credits per year.

Each year, the amount of earnings needed for a credit goes up slightly as average earnings levels increase. Generally, a person needs 40 credits to be eligible for retirement benefits.

There are special rules for the self-employed.  Read more in our online publication, “If You Are Self Employed”, at Social Security benefits can be reduced if a person receives a pension based on government employment that was not covered by Social Security taxes.  You should refer to our website for more details,


If a person receives a Social Security payment after they die, does the payment have to be returned?


Social Security benefits are not paid for the month in which an individual dies. For example, an individual receives a Social Security payment in August for the month of July, and dies in August after the receipt of that payment.

The individual would be entitled to the payment received in August (July's payment) because the individual lived throughout the month of July.

However, the payment issued in September (for the month of August) would have to be returned to Social Security because the individual did not live throughout the month of August.

A family member or other person responsible for the beneficiary's affairs should do the following. Promptly notify Social Security of the beneficiary's death by calling SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. (TTY 1-800-325-0778.) If monthly benefits were being paid via direct deposit, notify the bank or other financial institution of the beneficiary's death. Request that any funds received for the month of death and later be returned to Social Security as soon as possible.

If benefits were being paid by check, do not cash any checks received for the month in which the beneficiary died or thereafter. Return the checks to Social Security as soon as possible.

Oscar Garcia is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Social Security Administration. You can direct your questions to him at: SSA, 411 Richland Hills Drive, San Antonio, Texas, 78245. You can also email him at

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