Q. My wife moved here from overseas, and hasn't worked enough to qualify for Social Security retirement payments. Since she's raising our children and might not work again for a long time, will she be eligible for government retirement programs?
A. Even if your wife never works again, she'll qualify for 50 percent of your Social Security payments when she reaches the age where she qualifies for a maximum retirement benefit.
She must be a U.S. citizen or lawful resident alien. She'll also qualify for Medicare health insurance.
Your wife will receive the spousal Social Security benefit as long as you are still alive. If you die first, she'll stop receiving her benefit but will get your full benefit.
Many people don't realize that non-working spouses are eligible for Social Security payments until they speak with a financial expert, said Robert Tull, a financial planner and president of R.W. Tull & Associates in Chesapeake, Va.
Most of those who end up qualifying for the spousal benefit are mothers who leave the work force to stay home with their kids, Tull said.
Tull advises clients who don't qualify for their own Social Security benefit payments to do some research and find out if it would be worth it to go back to work to become eligible.
To qualify, workers need 40 "credits," or 10 years of work. Each quarter worked in a year earns a credit. Many times, people who don't qualify for Social Security are only a few credits short of becoming eligible.
It's relatively easy to rack up the credits to qualify for benefits because the minimum amount you must earn to receive a credit is $870 per quarter, or $3,480 for the year.
"If a person has not been out in the work force for many years, it can be very attractive to go back to part-time or seasonal work to get the dollar amount in and get the credits," said Richard Kolck, a financial planner and owner of Richard Kolck & Co., in Dubuque, Iowa.
The government now sends everyone a yearly statement estimating retirement benefits and saying how many credits have been earned.
You can calculate different retirement benefit scenarios on the Social Security Web site: http://www.ssa.gov.
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