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The Earnings Test

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

1801. The Earnings Test

1801.1 How is your amount of benefits generally determined?

Social Security benefits are meant to partly replace earnings you (or your family) lose because of retirement, disability, or death. Therefore, the amount of Social Security benefits you receive each year depends on whether you are fully or partially retired.

1801.2 What is the "earnings test"?

We use the "earnings test," also referred to as the retirement test, to:

  1. Measure the extent of your retirement;

  2. Determine the amount, if any, to be deducted from monthly benefits; and

  3. Measure the work activity of other individuals entitled to benefits on your record and the amount of benefits payable to them.

1801.3 What beneficiaries are not subject to the earnings test?

The earnings test does not apply to you if you are:

  1. Full retirement age (FRA) (see §723.5 for definition of Full Retirement Age);

  2. Entitled to benefits because of a disability; or

  3. Living outside the U.S. and your work is not covered by Social Security. In this case, the "foreign work test" applies as described in §1823.

Last Revised: Sep. 27, 2005

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