9 Groups of People Who Don’t Qualify for Social Security (Don’t Be Surprised)

Are you in one of these groups excluded from Social Security benefits?

Senior couple
Updated June 6, 2024
Fact checked

We receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Most American workers look forward to retiring, and receiving a monthly Social Security check to get ahead financially is an important part of that plan.

Some plan on using that check to supplement their savings, while others count on it to make ends meet. But before you start factoring Social Security into your retirement budget, you need to know if you qualify to receive it.

Here are nine categories of American citizens who don't qualify for Social Security payments in retirement.

Eliminate your late tax debt

Each year, the IRS forgives millions in unpaid taxes. If you have more than $10,000 in tax debt, or have 3+ years of unfiled taxes, you could get forgiveness too. You might be eligible to lower the amount you owe, or eliminate your tax debt completely.

Easy Tax Relief could help you lower or get out of your tax debt for good. They’re well respected in the industry and have been recognized for their ethical standards when dealing with tax debt. While most tax companies just put you on a payment plan and file your taxes for you, Easy Tax Relief talks to the IRS directly. They can help you pay off your tax debt faster while potentially reducing what you owe.

Important: Not everyone will qualify. To take advantage of this special program you must owe more than $10,000 in past-due taxes.

Fill out this form to get started

Americans who worked too few years to earn 40 work credits

chuck/Adobe social security cards

To receive Social Security benefits, you must have earned a certain number of “work credits” throughout your working life.

Typically, you’ll earn one credit for every financial quarter you work, which means you can earn up to four credits a year. To earn your credits in 2024, you must make at least $1,730 per quarter, but the minimum earnings requirement changes from year to year.

Since you can earn four credits a year, most Americans must work for at least 10 years to be eligible to receive Social Security benefits in retirement.

Some ex-spouses who were married for fewer than 10 years

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe sad couple with divorce documents

Many ex-spouses still qualify to receive at least some of the spousal benefit they were entitled to based on their former spouse’s working income. 

However, if you were married to someone who qualifies for Social Security but divorced before you’d been married for a decade, you likely won’t qualify for the spousal benefit.

There are some exceptions to this rule, though, including ex-spouses who may receive spousal benefits from their former partners if they're taking care of a child they had together.

Railroad workers who get their retirement through the Railroad Retirement Board

APchanel/Adobe engineers inspecting railway switches

If you worked in the railroad industry for 10 years before 1995 or for five years after 1995, you likely qualify to receive retirement benefits through the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).

This federal agency’s benefits plan replaces Social Security benefits. However, your RRB retirement credits will carry over into Social Security if you worked for fewer than 10 or five years (depending on your hiring date).

Earn $200 cash rewards bonus with this incredible card

There's a credit card that's making waves with its amazing bonus and benefits. The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card(Rates and fees) has no annual fee and you can earn $200 after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months.

The Active Cash Card puts cash back into your wallet. Cardholders can earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases — easy! That's one of the best cash rewards options available.

This card also offers an intro APR of 0% for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (then 20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99% Variable). Which is great for someone who wants a break from high interest rates, while still earning rewards.

The best part? There's no annual fee.

Click here to apply now.

Americans who never worked

JohnKwan/Adobe social security and retirement income

If you didn’t work between the start of adulthood and retirement age, you didn’t contribute any portion of your paychecks to the Social Security tax. That means you won’t get any of that money back in a monthly stipend once you retire.

This rule doesn’t apply to non-working spouses of working adults. For instance, if you were a stay-at-home parent while your spouse worked and contributed to the Social Security fund, you likely qualify for spousal Social Security benefits based on your partner’s income.

Immigrants who arrived in America after age 50

zimmytws/Adobe immigration law file with gavel

Some immigrants may not earn enough work credits to qualify for Social Security, depending on when they immigrated to the United States. 

However, governments in 30 countries have totalization agreements with the United States government, meaning the two governments coordinate retirement benefits for immigrants who move to the United States and vice versa. 

Don’t assume that you won't receive retirement benefits because you immigrated after a certain age. Instead, talk to your lawyer and financial advisor about which benefits you can expect, if any.

Americans who immigrate to one of nine restricted countries

diegograndi/Adobe A car driving in Cuba

Due to government sanctions and other restrictions on foreign governments, Americans who retire to one of 10 foreign countries can’t receive monthly Social Security payments.

Exceptions are available to qualifying immigrants in seven of the nine countries, including Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Azerbaijan.

Exceptions cannot be made for American immigrants to North Korea or Cuba.

Teachers in certain states and school districts

WavebreakMediaMicro/Adobe school teacher smiling in class

Per the original Social Security Act, government workers wouldn’t receive Social Security benefits because they retired with government-sponsored pension plans instead. 

However, as pension plans became less common and less comprehensive over time, the act was eventually amended. It’s now up to individual states to opt in or out of the Social Security program for public servants, including teachers.

If you’re a teacher, look into your state’s Social Security laws to ensure you aren’t paying into a system that won’t pay you benefits post-retirement.

Americans who started working for the federal government before 1984

DW labs Incorporated/Adobe Government workers

Most individuals hired by the federal government in or before 1983 were part of the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), a pension plan for federal workers that serves as an alternative to Social Security.

Now, federal employees receive their retirement through the Federal Employees Retirement System. The new system includes Social Security retirement benefits and applies to federal employees hired from 1987 onwards.

 Workers who participated in the CSRS are still eligible for Medicare.

Americans who don’t live through age 62

zinkevych/Adobe senior woman reviewing bills at home

American workers who have paid into the Social Security system for decades can’t apply to start receiving their benefits until age 62 (though they can delay receiving benefits until age 70). 

As a result, those who die before age 62 won’t see any of that money, though their spouse and dependents may be entitled to receive survivor benefits.

However, those diagnosed with a terminal condition can likely apply for Social Security Disability Insurance, which can support Americans unable to work (including those who haven’t reached their 62nd birthday).

Take advantage of historically high rates to grow your wealth

Are your savings just sitting around, not earning much interest? It's time to make a change and put your money to work for you! With CloudBank 24/7, you can earn more interest on your money today ... while keeping your cash OUT of the stock market.

Here’s their secret: CloudBank 24/7 amplifies your money by doing what many banks refuse to do … paying you a rare 5.22% APY (annual percentage yield)12 on your cash.

When you deposit your money into this high-yield savings account, you can supercharge your emergency fund, short-term savings, return on cash, and more with interest income generated from their high 5.22% APY payout.

The best part? There are no fees, you can withdraw your money at any time, and opening an account takes as little as 3 minutes. CloudBank 24/7 is FDIC-insured through Third Coast Bank SSB and cybersecurity is a top priority, ensuring your data is kept safe.

Limited Time Bonus: Earn up to $2,000 when you refer friends and family to Raisin. Visit site to learn more.

Click here to open a CloudBank 24/7 online savings account

Bottom line

Andrii Zastrozhnov/Adobe senior woman shows thumbs up

Fortunately, only around 3.5% of American citizens don’t qualify for Social Security, so the odds are that you’ll receive a monthly check once you retire.

Still, knowing for sure can help relieve some financial stress, so talk to your retirement planner or tax professional to understand what retirement benefits you can expect.

Lucrative, Flat-Rate Cash Rewards


Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

Current Offer

$200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee


Rewards Rate

Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks
Card Details

Author Details

Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.