Early Social Security Benefits While Working May Not Make Sense

If you think you’ll take your Social Security benefits early but still continue working, think again. It just doesn’t make good financial sense in some cases, depending on how much you earn. The Social Security Administration creates disincentives for taking Social Security before your full retirement age. And here’s how they work it.

The Social Security Administration[1] has slowly been increasing its full retirement age (FRA) where you receive your ‘full’ retirement benefits based on your best 35 years of earnings (weighted by their wage index).  FRA now ranges from 66 to 67 depending on your birth date.

You can begin collecting earlier than your FRA but your Social Security benefits will be reduced accordingly – and permanently!  At the earliest starting age of 62 you get only about 70% of your FRA benefits.  That’s the first bad part of collecting early.

But if you’re still working while collecting, Social Security (refer to table) reduces its benefits you do get by $1 for every $2 of your working income above $15,720 per year. During the year you turn your FRA up until the month you turn your FRA, Social Security reduces its benefits to you $1 for every $3 of working income above $41,880 per year.

[1] Source for article data:  IRS Publication 915 and Social Security Administration http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/cola/rtea.html

2015 Social Security Benefit Reduction Due to Working Income beyond Threshold Versus Age
Age RangeThreshold

to trigger

Social Security benefit  withheld
62 to year turn FRA (not inclusive):$15,720$1 for every $2 of current social security benefit
Year of FRA to month turn FRA

(not inclusive):

$41,880$1 for every $3 of current social security benefit
Month turn FRA and thereafter:No thresholdNo social security benefit withheld


This means that if you’re making a good deal more than $15,720 you’re having some of your earned Social Security held back. So why take it early, get a permanent reduction in your benefits, and then not even get it all? That’s the second reason for not filing for early benefits.

Incidentally, you’ll not lose those withheld benefits for excess working income since they’re added to your FRA benefits for later receipt.

The last disincentive is that the normally tax-free Social Security benefits become subject to taxes as your income increases. Specifically, when your working income plus tax free bond income plus 50% of your Social Security income exceeds $25,000 (if you’re single) or $32,000 (if you’re married), then 50% of the amount exceeding that threshold or 50% of your Social Security income – whichever is less – is taxed.  At $34,000 (single) and $44,000 (married) threshold, up to 85% of your Social Security is taxed.

So creating sufficient working income to trigger taxation of whatever Social Security benefits again defeats most of whatever benefit you think you get for taking early Social Security benefits.

With these three disincentives to collecting early Social Security benefits, you can see that collecting and working allot just doesn’t make sense.  If you need to collect early but are not going to earn that much – so you’ll not trigger benefits reduction or Social Security taxation – then you’ll be OK.

Give us a call and let us help you plan for your dream retirement setting.

[1] Source for article data:  IRS Publication 915 and Social Security Administration http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/cola/rtea.html

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