When You Are Eligible for Social Security and Medicare

You can receive Medicare without taking your Social Security benefits

Older couple working in living room, with laptop on coffee table

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Medicare and Social Security aid older Americans and their spouses who paid into the programs through FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes during their working years.

Medicare provides both free and cost-effective health insurance coverage for eligible older adults who are 65 years of age or older. Social Security retirement benefits act as a small pension, providing monthly income to those eligible as early as age 62.

Even if you are eligible to start receiving benefits, you do not have to start taking them. In some cases, it may be better to delay or to start taking benefits from one program but not the other.

Key Takeaways

  • Americans become eligible for Medicare and Social Security at different times.
  • While you can start receiving Social Security payments as early as age 62, the longer you wait, the more you will receive on a monthly basis.
  • Even if you decide to wait until age 67 or older to begin receiving Social Security, you can opt to get Medicare at age 65 or even younger under certain conditions. In most cases, this is a favorable way to plan out your retirement.

When Older People Are Eligible for Medicare

Older people can qualify for traditional Medicare coverage as early as age 65. You must also:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident
  • Meet the work credit requirement (or have a spouse that meets this requirement)

You might also be eligible for Medicare if you are under age 65 and meet one of the following conditions:

  • You have a disability.
  • You have End-Stage Renal Disease, a permanent kidney failure that requires dialysis or a transplant.
  • You have been entitled to Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board disability benefits for 24 months.
  • You have Lou Gehrig's disease.

Once you qualify for Medicare, you are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A. You can then choose to enroll in other parts of the program or to delay enrollment.

If you are over 65 and do not meet any of the above criteria, you still may be eligible to purchase coverage through Medicare Part A. If you are unsure whether you are eligible, you can check using the Medicare Eligibility & Premium Calculator.

The work credit requirement is an algorithm used to determine how long a worker paid into the system.

When Older People Are Eligible for Social Security

Today, older adults become eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits at age 66 or 67 depending on their birth year and whether they or their spouse have met the work credit requirement.

For anyone born in 1929 or later, the minimum work credit requirement for Social Security benefits is 40 credits or 10 years of work. The year you can start taking full Social Security benefits is known as your full retirement age or normal retirement age.

Age for Receiving Full Social Security Benefits
Birth Year Full Retirement Age
1943-1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67
If you were born on January 1 of any year, refer to the previous year when calculating your full retirement age.

Unlike Medicare, older people can opt to start taking their benefits before their full retirement age. The earliest you can begin taking Social Security benefits is age 62. However, if you begin taking Social Security payments before your full retirement age, you will receive a reduced monthly benefit for the remainder of your life.

If you are a widow or widower, you can start claiming your spouse's reduced Social Security benefits when you are age 60, or 50 if you are disabled. You can then switch to taking your own full benefit at your full retirement age.

You can also choose to delay your Social Security benefit past full retirement age until age 70. This will often make you eligible for delayed retirement credits, which increase your monthly benefit for the remainder of your life.

If you are eligible for Social Security, your family members may also be eligible to receive some benefit if they are a:

  • Spouse or former spouse age 62 or older
  • Spouse younger than 62 if taking care of a child who is younger than age 16 or with disabilities
  • Child up to age 18, or up to 19 if a full-time student still in high school
  • A child of any age with disabilities before age 22

Family members can only receive these payments if you are eligible and have already filed for retirement benefits.

Deciding when and how to file for Social Security benefits (whether they are your own or your spousal benefit) should be a strategic piece of a prepared older person's retirement planning.

The value of Social Security benefits you are eligible for can change due to factors such as divorce, having a child, or the death of a spouse. If your life circumstances are different than when you started taking Social Security benefits, notify the Social Security Administration to ensure you are receiving the correct benefit.

Taking Medicare but Not Social Security

It is possible to enroll in Medicare coverage but delay taking your Social Security retirement benefits. For many workers, this strategy is the most financially advantageous.

For most older people, it is a good idea to enroll in all parts of Medicare coverage they plan to use as soon as they are eligible at age 65. If you delay enrolling, Medicare Part D may become more expensive. If you delay signing up for Part B, you may also experience a gap in your coverage or have to pay a late enrollment penalty.

However, if you can afford to, it is often a smart financial decision to delay receiving Social Security benefits until at least your full retirement age in order to increase the benefit you receive. This may mean that there are several years during which you are enrolled and covered by Medicare but not yet receiving your monthly Social Security benefit.