Q & A: Social Security Benefits

Will the earnings of my spouse reduce my social security benefits?

When you receive Social Security benefits based on your own work record, earnings of your spouse will not reduce your benefits. For example if you start your own Social Security retirement before your spouse, his or her ongoing earnings will not reduce your Social Security benefits. It is important to note, however, that depending on your age and amount of earnings, if you continue to work the annual earnings test might affect your SSA benefits, but earnings of your spouse will not.

The annual earnings test concerns how earnings from employment in a calendar year might affect your SSA benefits payable for that year. Dollar amounts of the earnings test usually change each year. Only gross wages or net income from self-employment count for the annual earnings test. Income from investments, interest, pensions, capital gains or other income does not.  Earnings of your spouse do not count towards your earnings limit.

While you are working, your earnings will reduce your benefit amount only until you reach your full retirement age.  Remember, this age varies depending on the year you were born, see http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/retirechart.htm to determine your full retirement age. After you reach full retirement age Social Security recalculates the benefit amount to leave out the months when they reduced or withheld benefits due to excess earnings.

The formula SSA uses to determine how much your benefit must be reduced is as follows:

  • If you are under your full retirement age for the entire year, $1 is deducted from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit.

For 2013, that limit is $15,120.

  • In the year you reach your full retirement age, $1 in benefits is deducted for every $3 you earn above a different limit, but only those earnings before the month you reach full retirement age are counted.

For example, if you reached full retirement age in 2013, the limit on your earnings for the months before full retirement age is $40,080.

  • Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, you can get your Social Security benefits with no limit on your earnings.

For more information, see “How Work Affects Your Benefits” at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10069.html.

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