Contributed by: James Smiertka
If there’s a chance you will earn income while you are collecting Social Security, you will want to know about an extremely important rule put in place by the Social Security Administration called the “Earnings Test.” There are a variety of reasons why someone may earn income while receiving Social Security. Whether it’s simply pursuing a passion after retirement or the financial need to pick up a part-time job, it’s important to fully understand the implications of earning income and collecting Social Security benefits prior to reaching your full retirement age (FRA). (Click here to see what your FRA is.) Once you reach full retirement age, however, you are not subject to any reduction of benefits from the “earnings test” on your earned income. Let’s take a look at two different examples in detail:
If you are under full retirement age (FRA) for the entire year:
- Earnings limit: $15,720
- Reduction of benefits: $1 for every $2 you earn above the earnings limit
- Example: John is currently 63 and his FRA is 66. John retires, immediately turns on Social Security benefits ($20,000/yr) but decides he wants to pursue his passion as a tutor and plans on earning $35,720 for the year. Since his earnings would be $20,000 over the Earnings Test limit ($35,720 – $15,720), one half ($1 of every $2 earned), or $10,000, would be withheld from his annual Social Security benefit, therefore, reducing John’s Social Security benefit to $10,000 for the year.
In the year you reach full retirement age (FRA):
- Earnings limit: $41,880
- Reduction of benefits: $1 for every $3 you earn above the earnings limit
- Example: Sue is currently 65 but is reaching her FRA of 66 in a matter of months. She recently started collecting Social Security, which provides her $30,000/yr. Sue is still working, earning $161,880 annually and was not aware of the Social Security Earnings Test. Her earnings would be $120,000 over the earnings test limit ($161,880 – $41,880), one third ($1 of every $3 earned), or $40,000 would be withheld from her annual Social Security benefit. Since this amount is greater than her Social Security benefit, her entire benefit for this year would be withheld.
It’s important to note that if you have had Social Security benefits withheld because of your earnings, they are not lost forever. Once you reach full retirement age, your benefit will increase to compensate for the benefits that were withheld. It does, however, on average, take nearly 2 decades to essentially recover the benefits that were withheld. The bottom line is that there are very few instances where it would make sense to start collecting benefits if there is a strong likelihood that you will continue working. Instead of collecting Social Security early and more than likely having the majority (if not all) of your benefits withheld, you could simply delay benefits which permanently increases your Social Security benefit up to age 70 (More information on that here).
As you can see, there are many moving parts with Social Security, especially for clients who still plan to work prior to reaching full retirement age. Before turning your benefits on, we always recommend that you reach out to your financial planner to discuss your situation in detail to ensure the strategy you’re selecting is in line with your own personal goals and objectives. If you’d like to chat about your benefits and discuss different filing strategies, give us a call, we are happy to help!
James Smiertka is a Client Service Associate at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.
This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Jim Smiertka and not necessarily those of Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Examples provided in this material are hypothetical and for illustrative purposes only.