How Social Security Benefits Are Affected by Earned Income

Thanks to the Great Resignation trend over the past year, there is a high availability of jobs. Therefore, now is a good time for retirees who would like to go back to work to ease into the job market. However, if you’ve already begun drawing Social Security benefits, you should understand how earning income will affect those payouts.

First of all, you have two options if you’d like to stop receiving Social Security. One option is available only if you’ve been drawing benefits for a year or less. In this case, you may cancel your application; but be aware that you must repay all the benefits that you and your family have received to date. That includes spousal benefits and even Medicare premiums that were deducted from your payout. You will still be able to reapply for Social Security later.

The second option is available only if you have reached full retirement age but have not yet turned 70 years old. In this case, you may request to have your Social Security payouts suspended.

There are two benefits associated with these strategies: 1) foregoing Social Security income will likely reduce your tax bill; and 2) your Social Security benefits will start accruing again based on the delay and calculations that include your new wages.

However, you may continue receiving Social Security while you work, which could be important if your spouse is receiving benefits based on your earnings record. Under this scenario, a portion of your benefit may be withheld or even subject to higher taxes. It all depends on how much you earn. If your annual income is $19,560 or less (2022), it won’t impact your Social Security benefits.

Note that only wages from a job or self-employment count toward your Social Security income limit for withholding purposes. Distributions you receive from pensions, annuities, investment income, interest, veterans benefits or other government or military retirement benefits are not considered earned income.

Once your income totals more than $19,560, the impact depends on your age. If you have not yet reached “full retirement age,” Social Security will withhold $1 in benefits for every $2 you earn over the limit.

During the year you reach full retirement age, your annual total earnings limit increases to $51,960 (2022), and the subsequent benefit reduction drops to $1 for every $3 you earn over that amount. In fact, they count only how much you’ve earned up to the month before your birthday – not what you end up earning in a whole year. Once you’ve reached full retirement age, it doesn’t matter much how you earn, there will no longer be any withholding of benefits.

Better yet, starting in January of the year after you turn full retirement age, regardless of whether you continue working or not, your Social Security benefit will increase to reflect any previously withheld benefits due to your income exceeding the limit. And if the years you subsequently worked rank among your 35 highest earning years, your payout will increase even more to reflect a higher benefit calculation (since you paid FICA taxes on that income).

Tax Considerations

In the case of all beneficiaries, at least 15 percent of Social Security income is exempt from federal income taxes. Be aware though, that for tax purposes, your reportable income includes half of your Social Security benefit plus all other forms of income, such as a job, pension or investment income. If your total annual income is between $25,000 and $34,000, then as much as 50 percent of your Social Security benefit is taxable. If you earn more than $34,000 in a year, then up to 85 percent of your Social Security benefit is subject to taxes.

This is a general overview of what happens to your Social Security benefits when mixed with earned income. There are additional details, so it’s a good idea to work with a Social Security expert to decide if you should cancel or suspend payouts, and to understand how your income and tax situation may be impacted by going back to work.

With that said, if your portfolio has taken a beating this year, you might want to stop investment distributions for now and give it time to grow. Fortunately, the United States is currently enjoying a robust job market in which highly experienced candidates can negotiate a flexible work schedule, job site and higher salary, so it may be worth it to go back to work for another year or two to help secure your long-term retirement plans.


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