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Earnings as Basis for Benefits

Excerpted from "Social Security Handbook". See the up-to-date, official Social Security Handbook at


1400. Earnings as Basis for Benefits

1400.1 What is the basis for Social Security benefit amounts?

Social Security benefits are based upon your earnings as reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA). For this reason, it is important that you report these earnings to us promptly and accurately. (See §§1402-1404.)

1400.2 What types of benefits are determined by earnings?

Your earnings are used to find out whether you are entitled to retirement, survivors, disability, and health insurance benefits (see Chapter 2). Also, they are used to calculate cash benefit rates (see Chapter 7).

Last Revised: Jul. 1, 2004



There are 14 Comments

I can't survive on my husbands SS alone. I have to work. how much can I make in a year and how does it affect the amount of my husband's SS? I'm shy 4 months of being 67

Your full retirement age is 66. A beneficiary reaching full retirement age can earn $37,680 a year and not lose any benefits in 2011. The SSA will deduct $1 for every $3 earned above $37,680.

The same earnings limits apply to a child or spouse who works and receives benefits on your record.

I only make 382.00 a month on my SS , and I can't hardly make it on that alone. I am retired and doing sewing to help make out. My husband will be 63 on Feb 11 . Can I start drawing off his SS at this time. He won't retire until he is 65 or 67. He is a truck driver and is away from home....I need more to work with. I am now 74 soon to be 75.

For this to work, your husband will first need to retire. When a worker files for retirement benefits, the worker's spouse may be eligible for a benefit based on the worker's earnings. The your benefit can be as much as half of your husband's "primary insurance amount," depending on the your husband's age at retirement. If your husband begins receiving benefits before "normal (or full) retirement age," the you will receive a reduced benefit.

If a you are eligible for a retirement benefit based on your own earnings, and if that benefit is higher than the spousal benefit, then we pay the retirement benefit. Otherwise the SSA will pay the spousal benefit based on your husband's record.

I retired at age 55 and suplement my retirement income by working part time. What effect will those part time wages have on my social security benefit when I apply at age 62?

A Social Security retirement beneficiary under the full retirement age (66.5 for you) can earn up to $14,160 a year and not lose any benefits in 2011. Social Security will deduct $1 in benefits for every $2 earned above $14,160.

Once you reach full retirement age (66.5 for you), you can earn $37,680 a year and not lose any benefits in 2011.

I receive spousal benefits from my ex's SS. I am 67. When I retire, will my benefits be in addtion to that which I already receive, or will there be some formula applied that reduces one of the benefits?
Ready to Retire!

In general, benefits are not additive. You generally receive the higher amount.

If you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record Social Security will pay that amount first. But if

  • the benefit on his or her record is a higher amount, you will get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount (reduced for age).
  • you have reached full retirement age and you are eligible for a spouse's benefit and your own retirement benefit, you have a choice. You can choose to receive only the divorced spouse's benefits now and delay receiving retirement benefits until a later date. If retirement benefits are delayed, a higher benefit may be received at a later date based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.

I can't trust him and he lives in Modesto where I do not live.
He owes me much more than he is paying me per month. What can I do to find out if he is really working and not telling me?

I doubt if the SSA will be able to help you with this. If your former spouse is still living, privacy rules prohibit the SSA from giving you his or her earnings record. But they can tell you what benefits you may be entitled to after we have established your relationship to him or her.

This is beyond our purview, but you may have to seek a judgement or other court order regarding this.

I am 65 and a half years old and are thinking about retiring. I still work 40 hours a week full time. Can get full retirement benefits and still work? If so how many hours can I work?


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