Social Security 'quarters'


Q. I am a CSRS employee who started with the Postal Service in 1981. However, I worked in a supermarket before the USPS and worked for the union for the past six years. For both of those other jobs, I have paid and still am paying Social Security. I have heard the expression of “having enough quarters” for Social Security retirement. What does that mean, and how many quarters are needed?

A. What you referred to as quarters are now called credits. You have to earn a certain amount from which Social Security deductions are taken to earn a credit. In 2013, you’d have to earn $1,160 to earn one credit. However, if you were to earn four times that amount at any point in a year, you’d receive the maximum four credits. Once you have 40 credits, you are eligible for a Social Security benefit beginning at age 62.

Because you are covered by CSRS, a retirement system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, you are subject to the windfall elimination provision. The WEP will reduce any Social Security benefit to which you are entitled if you have fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security. For example, in 2013, you’d need to earn at least $21,075 for them to be considered substantial earnings.


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Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to

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