I never filed for Social Security. Can I get back benefits?

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Q. I am 92 years old and I never applied for Social Security. Is it retroactive? Also my husband died at the age of 65. Can I apply for his also?
— Widow

A. The first question is whether you’re eligible for Social Security benefits.

About 96% of workers in the U.S. will receive benefits, the agency said.

Eligibility is generally based on work history, said Jeanne Kane, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton.

You need to work for 40 quarters or 10 years to qualify, and be age 62 or older, she said.

“Certain workers don’t pay into Social Security, so those earnings aren’t eligible for benefits,” she said. “Examples of some of those workers include some state, county and municipal employees who are covered by state funded pension funds, U.S. government employees hired before 1984 who get pensions under the Civil Service Retirement System and railroad employees who receive pensions under the Railroad Retirement Program.”

If you’re not eligible based on your own work history, you may be eligible based on your husband’s work history, Kane said.

“In general, you will have to have been married for at least nine months to be eligible for spousal benefits,” she said, noting that if you qualify for both, you don’t get double benefits. “You can receive benefits on your own work history or that of your husband. You can only claim the higher of the two.”

So it seems that you may have missed out on many years of benefits.

“You can claim retroactive benefits, but unfortunately, Social Security retroactive payments will generally only go back six months,” Kane said. “In certain circumstances involving disability, Social Security may pay up to 12 months retroactively.”

We recommend you contact Social Security directly at (800) 772-1213 so you can discuss your case and see what kind of benefits you may qualify for.

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This story was originally published on Dec. 22, 2022.

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