Three Common Ways Your Social Security Payment Can Grow After Retirement

June 21, 2018 • By

woman planting flowers You made the choice and now you are happily retired. You filed online for your Social Security benefits. They arrive each month in the correct amount exactly as expected. But, did you ever wonder if your Social Security check could increase?

Once you begin receiving benefits, there are three common ways benefit checks can increase: a cost of living adjustment (COLA); additional work; or an adjustment at full retirement age if you received reduced benefits and exceeded the earnings limit.

The COLA is the most commonly known increase for Social Security payments. We annually announce a COLA, and there’s usually an increase in the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit amount people receive each month. By law, federal benefit rates increase when the cost of living rises, as measured by the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index (CPI-W). More than 66 million Americans saw a 2.0 percent increase in their Social Security and SSI benefits in 2018. For more information on the 2018 COLA, visit our website.

Social Security uses your highest thirty-five years of earnings to figure your benefit amount when you sign up for benefits. If you work after you begin receiving benefits, your additional earnings may increase your payment. If you had fewer than 35 years of earnings when we figured your benefit, you will replace a zero earnings year with new earnings. If you had 35 years or more, we will check to see if your new year of earnings is higher than the lowest of the 35 years (after considering indexing). We check additional earnings each year you work while receiving Social Security. If an increase is due, we send a notice and pay a one-time check for the increase and your continuing payment will be higher.

Maybe you chose to receive reduced Social Security retirement benefits while continuing to work. You made the choice to take benefits early, but at a reduced rate. If you exceeded the allowable earnings limit and had some of your benefits withheld, we will adjust your benefit once you reach full retirement age. We will refigure your payment to credit you for any months you did not receive payments.  Your monthly benefit will increase based on the crediting months you receive. You can find additional information about working and your benefit by reading What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits.

Retirement just got more interesting since you learned about potential increases to monthly payments. Social Security has been securing your today and tomorrow for more than 80 years with information and tools to help you achieve a successful retirement.

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Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications


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  1. Bobby Williams

    Can Social Security payments be figured to up to date payments ? After taken a early retirement ?

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi Bobby, thank you for the question. A Social Security retirement benefit is calculated by using your highest 35 years of earnings. If you do not have 35 years of earnings, we will use all of the earnings on your record and factor in an annual total of $0.00 earnings for each of the remaining years.

      Social Security has an online calculator called a Retirement Estimator that provides immediate retirement benefit estimates based on your actual Social Security earnings record. Plus, it also allows you to create “what if” scenarios. You can, for example, change your “stop work” dates or expected future earnings to create and compare different retirement alternatives.

      See our Benefits Planner: Retirement web page for more details.

  2. Diana Verhulst

    Hello! I will reach my FRA this Dec. I have already exceeded $51,000 in gross earnings this year. I’m toying with signing up for benefits now, as it’s my understanding that my total earnings prior to signing on don’t matter because I’m in my FRA year AND have exceeded the max of $48,600. I refer to this SSA statement: “Special rule for the first year you retire. Sometimes people who retire in mid-year already have earned more than the annual earnings limit. That’s why there is a special
    rule that applies to earnings for one year, usually the first year of retirement. Under this rule, you can get a full Social Security check for any whole month you’re retired,
    regardless of your yearly earnings.” My question is: what if I sign up for benefits now (September), but keep working at my same job — at which I earn $75,000/year. Will I receive my full benefit (or a partial benefit with money docked) in October and November if I sign up now even if I continue working for six more months into next year? Thank you. Diana

    • Ann C., Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi, Diana. Thanks for your question. If you work and are full retirement age or older, you may keep all of your benefits, no matter how much you earn. If you are younger than full retirement age, there is a limit to how much you can earn and still receive full Social Security benefits. If you reach full retirement age during 2020, we must deduct $1 from your benefits for each $3 you earn above $48,600 until the month you reach full retirement age. Also, keep in mind, your payment amount is based on when you decide to start your benefits. If you choose to get benefits before full retirement age, they will be reduced. The amount you receive when you first get benefits sets the base for the amount you will receive for the rest of your life. Your benefits are reduced a fraction of a percent for each month before your full retirement age. We do have a special earnings test rule that we apply to annual earnings—usually the first year of retirement. For more information on the Special Earnings Limit Rule, visit here. For more information and examples of how this works, please see our publication, How Work Affects Your Benefits. If you have additional specific questions, please call your local Social Security office for assistance. Hope this helps!

  3. J. Kevin Day

    I’m 70, and retired after reaching 67. This past year I had a very good business year with our consulting business.

    Who do I contact ( # or email please) to see if I’m entitled to an adjustment for the 2019 year?

    Thank you!

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi J. Kevin, thanks for using our blog. Generally, if you continue to work while receiving retirement benefits, your monthly benefit amount may increase. As long as you continue to work and receive benefits, we will check your record automatically every year to see whether the additional earnings will increase your monthly benefit. If there is an increase, we will send you a letter telling you of your new benefit amount. You can call us at 1-800-772-1213 for further assistance or you can contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  4. John Corb


    I started collecting SS in January 2018 at my full retirement age reached in Dec 2017. In March of 2019, I received a one time payment and a benefit increase which I assumed was for the the SS tax I paid for 2018 and the higher salary included for the 35 year selection. I have not received any increase in 2020 for the 2019 SS tax paid or 35 year salary replacement. I know there is a formula which includes an inflation index, and there might not be an increase warranted. I have paid over $6,100 in SS taxes each year for 2018 and 2019 and thought I might have an increase for 2019. Anyway, your thoughts would be appreciated.

  5. Duane

    I am 66, and have reached full retirement age. I’m puzzled as to when to begin taking SS. I am still working, earning 47,000. I would receive $1965 now or $2589 if I wait till age 70. Work is slowing down because of covid so not sure what the future holds. It’s tempting to withdraw now but would love that extra income if I wait. Anxious to hear your thoughts.

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi Duane, thank you for using our blog to ask your question. At Social Security, we’re often asked, “What’s the best age to start receiving retirement benefits?” The answer is that there’s not a single “best age” for everyone and, ultimately, it’s your choice. The most important thing is to make an informed decision. Base your decision about when to apply for benefits on your individual and family circumstances.

      As an individual, you have four basic choices when it comes to work and retirement. Consider the four options laid out in our benefit matrix to help you make the best decision for you.

      Our system is set up to take applications four months in advance, and when you’re ready, you can apply for your benefits online. We hope this helps!

  6. Antonio Ziller

    If one is to have an increase on benefits, when is it reviewed? Let’s say I have started receiving benefits in December a year ago.

    • Vonda VanTil, Public Affairs Specialist

      Hi Antonio. Each year we review the records for all Social Security recipients who work. If your latest year of earnings turns out to be one of your highest years, we refigure your benefit and pay you any increase due. This is an automatic process, and benefits are paid in December of the following year. For example, in December 2020, you should get an increase for your 2019 earnings if those earnings raised your benefit. The increase would be retroactive to January 2020.


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