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. Joan T.

    Hello, i was hoping to get some infomation on help with my hospital bill when i go in for a test.I do not get much from S.S. monthly & when the hospital charges me over &100.00 for a stress test i have to put it on my credit card.Can i get help with these hospital bills i get every 3 or 4 months from S.S. or ??

    • Ray F.

      Hi Joan, please visit the Medicare website to learn about programs available to assist people with low income to pay for Medicare expenses.
      Also, many states have programs to help with Medicare payments. You can find out about them by calling your State Medical Assistance Office. To get the local phone number, call the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at 1-800-633-4227 (TTY, 1-877-486-2048). Thanks!

  2. Charlie

    My wife and I will both work to FRA. Can we both draw our full SS or is there a limit on what we can get as a family?

    • Ray F.

      Hello Charlie. Yes, each one of you will be allowed to receive your full retirement benefit at the time you attain your full retirement age or FRA. Visit our Retirement Age Calculator to find your FRA. Thanks!

  3. patricia r.

    hi I am 62 receiving SSI benefits starting june 2018 .I have been doing part time employment here and there. I would like to know when does the calendar year kick in to go up to the allotted amount. Is it the first of the year 1/2018 to 12/2018 or June 2018 to June 2019?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Patricia, thank you for your question. The annual earnings limits operate on calendar year. However, keep in mind that if you’re retiring in the middle of the year and have already earned more than the yearly limit, there is a special rule that applies to earnings for one year. Under this rule, you can get a Social Security benefit for any whole month that you are “retired” and earning $1,420 or less ($1,470 in 2019). You can use our earnings test calculator to see how your earnings could affect your benefit payments and our Getting Benefits While Working web page.

  4. SAN N.

    Too complicated

  5. Samuel C.

    i was promiss to receved a large amount of money when i reach 65 for the earning i make in my life time and until this moment i havent receivef nothing explain that to me

    • Ray F.

      Hello Samuel. Unfortunately, and because of security reasons we do not have access to personal records in this blog and cannot answer your question at this time. One of our representatives should be able to provide you with an explanation. Please call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call later during the day or later in the week. Thanks!

  6. Joe

    My queastion is about the one time special rule regarding the monthly earnings limit when retired before the end of the year.

    Are “earnings” counted when worked or when paid?

    An example: There are 5 weekly pay days in November but the first week of November is for hours worked in October?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Joe: For earnings test purposes, we count wages as earnings when they are earned, regardless of when they are paid. See the Special Earnings Limit Rule Web Page for more.

      • Joe

        Hi Vona

        Thank you for the clarification.

        Just to confirm my understanding of the monthly earnings rule, the extra pay I would get in November from the last week worked in October will exceed the $1420 monthly limit. However, SS only counts the wage hours worked in November which will be under $1420 for the month.

  7. June E.

    Does the dollar limit on income earned apply only after the receipt of SS benefits begins, or does it apply to calendar year, when the recipient is below the age of full retirement (64) the entire year?

    • Ray F.

      Hello June. If your earnings will be over the limit for the year but you will be retired for part of the year, we have a special rule that applies to earnings for one year. The special rule lets us pay a full Social Security check for any whole month we consider you retired, regardless of your yearly earnings. For complete information on this topic, visit our web page “Getting Benefits While Working“. Thanks!

  8. Vern Z.

    I will receive around 14,000 dollars per year from a pension, does that count towards my earnings limit?

    • Vonda V.

      Thank you for the question, Vern. Pension payments, annuities, and the interest or dividends from your savings and investments are not earnings for Social Security purposes. Only earned income, your wages or net income from self-employment, is covered by Social Security.

      A non-covered pension, a pension based on work that is not covered by Social Security (for example, Federal civil service and some State or local government agencies such as police officers and some teachers), may cause the amount of your Social Security benefit to be reduced. Your benefit can be reduced based on one of two provisions: The Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. See our Information for Government Employees web page for details.

  9. Carrie U.

    I currently work for the state of ohio and receive SSA, what is the form that I will need to take to my HR to have them complete so that I won’t be overpaid in Social Security payments. and that I will receive the correct amount when I retire Oct 31st of this year.

  10. LARRY K.

    I that 14 months held back because was working and making over the monthly limit. My monthly social security payment was set at $ 1631.00.I had $1631.00 times 14 months or $22834.00 held back. When I quit they sent me $8500.00.Than 5 months later they said they over paid me by $2700.00 and I am paying it backs.SO I got only $5800.00 of the $ 22834.00 heldback.Where is the $17034.00 recalibration.

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