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How Will Working Affect Social Security Benefits?

How Will Working Affect Social Security Benefits?

| April 18, 2019

Tip: Rules, Rules, Rules. Different rules apply for those receiving Social Security disability benefits vs. Supplemental Security income payments. Different rules also apply for those working outside the U.S.
Source: Social Security Administration, 2017

In a recent survey, 79% of current workers stated they plan to work for pay after retiring.¹

And that possibility raises an interesting question: How will working affect Social Security benefits?

To answer that question requires an understanding of three key concepts: full-retirement age, the earnings test, and taxable benefits.

Full Retirement Age

Most workers don’t face an “official” retirement date, according to the Social Security Administration. The Social Security program allows workers to start receiving benefits as soon as they reach age 62—or to put off receiving benefits until age 70.

“Full retirement age” is the age at which individuals become eligible to receive 100% of their Social Security benefits. For example, individuals born in 1955 can receive 100% of their benefits at age 66 years and 2 months.²

Earnings Test

Starting Social Security benefits before reaching full retirement age brings into play the earnings test.

If a working individual starts receiving Social Security payments before full retirement age, the Social Security Administration will deduct $1 in benefits for each $2 that person earns above an annual limit. In 2018, the income limit is $17,040.³

During the year in which a worker reaches full retirement age, Social Security benefit reduction falls to $1 in benefits for every $3 in earnings. For 2018, the limit is $45,360 before the month the worker reaches full retirement age.⁴

For example, let’s assume a worker begins receiving Social Security benefits during the year he or she reaches full retirement age. In that year, before the month the worker reaches full retirement age, the worker earns $65,000. The Social Security benefit would be reduced as follows:

Earnings above annual limit    $65,000 – $45,360 = $19,640
One-third excess    $19,640 ÷ 3 = $6,547

In this case, the worker’s annual Social Security benefit would have been reduced by $6,547 because he or she is continuing to work.

Taxable Benefits

Fast Fact: Earnings Test. The Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act of 2000 eliminated the annual earnings test after the month a person attains his or her full retirement age.

Once you reach full retirement age, Social Security benefits will not be reduced no matter how much you earn. However, Social Security benefits are taxable.

For example, say you file a joint return and you and your spouse are past the full retirement age. In the joint return, you report a combined income of between $32,000 and $44,000. You may have to pay income tax on as much as 50% of your benefits. If your combined income is more than $44,000, as much as 85% of your benefits may be subject to income taxes.

There are many factors to consider when evaluating Social Security benefits. Understanding how working may affect total benefits can help you put together a program that allows you to make the most of all your retirement income sources—including Social Security.