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How does my work now equal benefits later?

You accumulate credits based on your earnings. In 2010, you get one credit for every $1,120 you earn (that figure is adjusted higher each year), up to a limit of four credits per year. These credits remain on your record even if you change jobs or stop working for a while.

If you were born after 1929, you need 40 credits in order to receive Social Security retirement benefits.