How Working and Taking Social Security Benefits Works Or Doesn’t

Taking Social Security while still working, may sound like a good way to boost your income while you prepare for your impending retirement, but this strategy can have unexpected costs.

It seems too good to be true — the idea of working at your regular job, receiving your regular salary and giving yourself a little extra income by applying for Social Security benefits at the same time. However, as explained by the article “Working and Taking Social Security at the Same Time? Watch Out for This” from Yahoo! Finance, there are some real pitfalls to doing this, unless you are very careful.

If you are under your Full Retirement Age (FRA), which depends on when you were born, the government may reduce your benefits, if your paycheck exceeds certain thresholds. This is formally known as the Social Security Earnings Test. You’ll need to work all the numbers to see if this strategy might work for you. Don’t expect it to, by the way, because that’s not what Social Security is all about.

The Social Security Earnings Test calculates how much you will lose in Social Security benefits, if you are under your FRA and if you’re earning over a certain amount every year from a paycheck. In 2019, that limit is $17,640. Note that this only applies to earned income. It does not apply to any other government benefits, investment earnings or pension income. For every $2 you earn more than $17,640 in 2019, the SSA (Social Security Administration) deducts $1 from your monthly benefit. 

Let’s say you are entitled to a $1,000 benefit every month ($12,000 per year) and you also earn $2,400 from your job. You’ll lose $3,180 in benefits and you’ll get only $8,820 for the year.

The numbers are a little different, if you are reaching your FRA at some point during 2019. The 2019 earnings limit when a person has reached FRA is a lot larger at $46,920, instead of $17,640. In this case, for every $3 you earn over the limit, the SSA will reduce benefits by $1.

Here’s the sweet spot: as soon as you hit your FRA, the rules no longer apply, and you can earn as much as you can. The SSA won’t take deductions from your paychecks.

There is a Retirement Earnings Test Calculator on the Social Security website. You must enter your date of birth, estimated earnings and your estimated Social Security benefit. It will provide further information on how earnings will be calculated.

If you are counting on Social Security for most of your living expenses during retirement, consider working longer, at the very least until you reach your FRA. You can also keep working full-time and delay taking Social Security benefits, so when you do start getting that monthly benefit it will be bigger.

For every month you delay taking Social Security beyond your 62nd birthday, benefits increase by 2/3 of 1%. You’ll reach 100% of your benefits at FRA, and if you can keep delaying benefits until age 70, benefits increase by a significant amount: 132% if your FRA is 66, or 124% if your FRA is 67.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (Feb. 25, 2019) “Working and Taking Social Security at the Same Time? Watch Out for This”

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