• Work credits are the way Medicare measures work time when deciding who qualifies for premium-free Medicare benefits.
  • You need 40 credits, or about 10 years of working and paying FICA taxes, to qualify for premium-free Medicare Part A.
  • If you’re married, you may qualify for premium-free Medicare even if you haven’t earned enough work credits, as long as your you spouse has.

Medicare work credits are a way of recording the amount of time you’ve worked while also paying Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

Read on to learn what a work credit is, how many you need to be eligible for Medicare, and more.

A work credit is a 3-month period of time (1 quarter) worked while paying into the Social Security and Medicare system. The Social Security Administration has several terms that refer to work credits and counting them, such as:

  • work quarter
  • quarter of coverage
  • Social Security credits

To qualify for premium-free Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), you need 40 credits, which represents about 10 years of working.

You do not need work credits to enroll in Medicare Part B or to buy additional insurance, such as:

If you don’t have enough credits, you can still enroll in Medicare Part A, but you may have to pay the Part A premium.

In 2021, the premium for Medicare Part A is $471 each month if you have less than 30 credits and $259 if you have 30 to 39 credits.

Typically, if you choose to buy Part A, you must also enroll in Medicare Part B and pay premiums for both Part A and Part B. In 2021, the standard Part B premium amount is $148.50. You may pay more, though, depending on your current income.

Whether or not you have enough credits for premium-free Medicare Part A, you still have to meet basic Medicare eligibility requirements including:

  • being 65 years old or over
  • being a U.S. citizen or a permanent legal resident who has lived in the United States for a minimum of 5 years

If you don’t have enough credits, your spouse’s work record may qualify you for premium-free Medicare. To qualify in this way, you must be 65 years old or over and your spouse must be at least 62 years old.

You may also qualify on the work record of a spouse you’ve divorced or who has passed away.

You can enroll in Medicare Part B without having Part A. As long as you’re enrolled in either Part A or Part B — or both — you can get Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage).

If you want a Medicare Advantage Plan or Medigap plan, however, you must be enrolled in both Medicare parts A and B. Together, parts A and B are known as original Medicare.

You can try using the Medicare eligibility and premium calculator to discover what you might expect to pay. Just enter your date of birth and answer a few yes or no questions, such as:

  • Have you worked at least 10 years for which you paid Medicare taxes?
  • Do you live in the United States or one of its territories?

Once you’ve answered the questions, you’ll receive information about your eligibility, initial enrollment period, and more.

  • When you work, FICA taxes are withheld from your paycheck. These taxes are your contribution to the Medicare and Social Security programs that you can access when you become eligible at age 65.
  • Every quarter (3 months) that you pay into the system counts as a credit. To get Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) without paying a premium, you need 40 credits in total.
  • If you have fewer than 30 credits, you may have to pay a premium of $471 per month for Medicare Part A in 2021. If you have 30 to 39 credits, the standard Part A premium is $259.
  • Some exceptions may allow you to get premium-free Medicare Part A even if you don’t have enough credits.
  • For detailed information on your eligibility, visit Medicare.gov or call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).

This article was updated on November 20, 2020, to reflect 2021 Medicare information.

Healthline