Dear Rusty: My daughter had menial jobs – part time – here in the USA during high school and college but shortly after college moved to South Korea to teach English. After 8 years there she will be going to Belgium and getting married. She will be living there and working there. Will she ever have access to any Social Security benefits? Signed: Interested Father
Dear Interested Father: It will depend upon how many U.S. quarter-credits your daughter has from her work here in the U.S. The U.S. has bilateral agreements (known as “Totalization Agreements”) with both South Korea and Belgium (and 24 other countries) and these agreements allow someone who has worked in both the U.S. and another country to aggregate their credits from both to qualify for U.S. benefits (and vice versa). But your daughter will need to have earned at least 6 U.S. credits from working in the U.S. in order for her credits from either South Korea or Belgium (or both) to be counted under the Totalization Agreement, thus entitling her to U.S. Social Security benefits. The U.S. requires a minimum of 40 total quarter-credits to be eligible for Social Security benefits. If your daughter has at least 6 U.S. credits now and can get enough additional credits via the Totalization Agreements to achieve minimum 40 required, then she may be eligible for at least a small U.S. Social Security benefit when she is 62.
Since you say your daughter had only “menial part time” jobs here in the U.S., key for her to eventually get benefits will be if she has worked enough in the U.S. to earn at least the 6 credits which will allow her to take advantage of the Totalization Agreements and meet basic eligibility for Social Security. FYI, Social Security credits are based upon how much is earned each year, and the amount required for a credit varies annually. A maximum of 4 credits can be earned each year – for example, in 2020 a credit is given for each $1,410 earned, up to a maximum of 4 credits per year ($5,640 in annual earnings). Essentially, if your daughter had at least the minimum earnings for 1 ½ years of U.S. employment to earn 6 credits, she could eventually use the Totalization Agreements to become eligible for U.S. Social Security benefits.
I suggest that your daughter contact Social Security and ask how many quarters of credit she now has under the U.S. Social Security system. If she already has the minimum 6 needed to eventually qualify under the Totalization Agreements, she may be entitled to a small SS benefit when she becomes age-eligible (62). But remember, even if she qualifies for a U.S. Social Security benefit, it will be based upon her minimal U.S. earnings; her foreign earnings won’t be used when computing her U.S. benefits. Be aware also that if she also earns a pension from either South Korea or Belgium (or both), any U.S. Social Security benefit she may eventually get would be affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) which reduces the SS benefit of anyone with a pension from work which did not contribute to U.S. Social Security.
Russell Gloor is an Association of Mature American Citizens certified social security advisor. To submit a question, visit amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory or email firstname.lastname@example.org.