How the Rules Work for You

July 12, 2018 • By

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Last Updated: July 12, 2018

Retirement doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone. Some people plan to retire and never work again. Some people plan for second careers in occupations that wouldn’t have adequately supported their families, but they do the work for pure enjoyment. Some people, whether by design or desire, choose to work part-time or seasonally to supplement their retirement income.

Retirees (or survivors) who choose to receive Social Security benefits before they reach full retirement age (FRA) and continue to work have an earnings limit. In 2017, the annual earnings limit was $16,920 for those under FRA the entire calendar year. In 2018, it is $17,040. If you earn over the limit, we deduct $1 from your Social Security monthly benefit payment for every $2 you earn above the annual limit. 

In the calendar year you reach FRA, which you can check out on our website, you have a higher earnings limit. Additionally, we will only count earnings for the months prior to FRA. In 2017, the limit was $44,880. In 2018, it is $45,360. In the year of FRA attainment, Social Security deducts $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn above the limit.

There is a special rule that usually only applies in your first year of receiving retirement benefits. If you earn more than the annual earnings limit, you may still receive a full Social Security payment for each month you earn less than a monthly limit. In 2018, the monthly limit is $1,420 for those who are below FRA the entire calendar year. The 2018 monthly limit increases to $3,780 in the year of FRA attainment.

Once you reach FRA, you no longer have an earnings limit, and we may recalculate your benefit to credit you for any months we withheld your benefits due to excess earnings. This is because your monthly benefit amount is calculated based on a reduction for each month you receive it before your FRA. So, if you originally filed for benefits 12 months before your FRA, but earned over the limit and had two months of Social Security benefits withheld, we will adjust your ongoing monthly benefit amount to reflect that you received 10 months of benefits before your FRA, and not 12.

Most people understand that if they work while receiving benefits before FRA, their benefit may be reduced. What most people do not consider in their retirement planning is that we recalculate your Social Security monthly benefit at FRA to credit you for Social Security benefit payments withheld due to earnings over the limit. Explaining the earnings limit is another way that Social Security helps secure your today and tomorrow. Understanding both the earnings limit and the possible recalculation of your ongoing Social Security benefits will provide an additional perspective on retirement for you to consider.

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About the Author

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. stephen b.

    My wife is currently collecting Social Security she is 63 years old. I will reach my FRA in January 2020 when I will be age 66.
    Can I collect as her spouse (1/2 of what she is collecting now) starting in January 2020 and delay collecting on my own earning when I reach 70 years old? If so if I pass away either before or after I start collecting, will my wife be entitled to the amount I would be collecting?

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question, Stephen. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (Public Law 114-74; November 2, 2015), made some changes to Social Security’s laws about claiming retirement and spousal benefits. If you were born before January 2, 1954 and have already reached full retirement age, you can choose to receive only the spouse’s benefit and delay receiving your retirement benefit until a later date. If your birthday is January 2, 1954 or later, the option to take only one benefit at full retirement age no longer exists. If you file for one benefit, you will be effectively filing for all retirement or spousal benefits.
      See “What do the Recent Social Security Claiming Changes Mean for Me” for more information on the changes of the new law.
      Generally, survivors benefits are paid at a higher rate. However, if a person begins to receive benefits at age 62 or prior to their full retirement age, their benefits are reduced. The reduction factors are permanently applied to all of the benefits the person may qualify for. To learn more about widow’s benefits, please visit our Benefits Planner for Survivors | If You Are The Survivor.
      We hope this information helps!

  2. Kathy P.

    I am retiring, and my first month I will probably to over my income of $1410. I understand they will take a $1 for every $2.00 over and recalculate my SS check. It that on a monthly bases and once you are making the proper amount, they send you a full SS check? I just don’t know if I have to report that I made over, or it is somehow reported to them.

  3. George D.

    My wife passed last month and benefits appear to have stopped is that the way it will be for the future

  4. Mike

    I have been on SS Disability since I was 58 years old. Will my SS amount remain the same when I finally reach my FRA?

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question, Mike. Social Security disability benefits automatically change to retirement benefits when disability beneficiaries attain their full retirement age. Benefits are not interrupted with this transition and the benefit amount will generally remains the same. Thanks!

  5. Dianna L.

    Can you explain to me what a set aside on social security is thru workman’s comp is and do you have to except it

  6. Brenda H.

    I’m 63 years old still working and drawing partial Social Security benefits for retirement if I become disabled before I turn 65 will my Social Security benefits increase or will they remain the same

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question, Brenda. Generally, disability payments are established at the highest rate possible. If you‘re currently receiving (reduced) retirement benefits, and need to apply for disability benefits, we can continue your payments until we receive a medical determination on your disability claim. If you are approved for disability benefits, we will have to adjust your payments accordingly.
      Please keep in mind that the Social Security Act sets out a very strict definition of disability. Disability Benefits are paid to people who are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last one year or more or to result in death. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability.
      Also, Social Security disability benefits automatically change to retirement benefits when disability beneficiaries attain their full retirement age. If a person has reached his or her full retirement age and is receiving Social Security retirement, they will not be eligible for disability benefits.
      We hope this helps to clarify this issue.



  8. Phillip R.

    When does the Cost of Living raise go into effect? If I start receiving Social Security on January 1st 2019 do I get a the Cost of Living raise?

    • Ray F.

      The Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) is effective with benefits payable for the month of January. We will not know if there will be a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2019, and if so the amount of the COLA, until late October when the Department of Labor releases information on inflation for the past year.
      For complete information on COLA, please check out our page “Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Information“. Thanks!

  9. Joe M.

    In Sept. 2019, I will be 66. I planned to draw social security once I turned 66. If I worked up to when I draw social security, am I obligated to only make a certain since I planning to retire in September?

    • Ray F.

      Great question Joe, if you were born January 2, 1943, through January 1, 1955, then your full retirement age for retirement insurance benefits is 66.
      If you work and are full retirement age or older, the amount you make at work will not affect your Social Security benefits, no matter how much you earn. Please read our publication “How Work Affects Your Benefits” for more information.

  10. Lou R.

    And remember that you must report social security on your tax return. Essentially, you are being taxed on the same money, once when you earn it and again when it is paid to you. What genius thought this scam up?

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