Social Security estimates that 96 percent of workers in the United States pay Social Security or FICA taxes with the intent of collecting retirement benefits. Many workers become eligible for Social Security benefits while still receiving earned income. If the worker has not reached full retirement age, they could face penalties for money earned through a job. In 2011, an eligible worker can earn up to $14,160 before facing penalties.
Full Retirement Age
Full retirement age has changed over time, and those born in 1942 reached full retirement age at 65. Workers born between 1943 and 1954 must work until 66 to reach full retirement age, and workers born after 1955 will need to work until 67 for full retirement age. If you retire before full retirement age, you are subject to penalties imposed by the Social Security Administration.
Social Security Penalties
Social Security allows the worker to earn income in any amount, but imposes a penalty on workers who take early benefits. If you choose to retire before full retirement age, or take survivors benefits before your full retirement age, Social Security imposes a penalty on your earned income over $14,160 in 2011. The penalty for early retirees is $1 for every $2 earned over $14,160.
Full Retirement Year
In the year you reach full retirement age, Social Security applies more liberal penalties to earnings. A worker may earn $37,680 in 2011 before facing a penalty if it is the year the individual reaches full retirement age. If the worker earns more than $37,680 the year he reaches full retirement age, Social Security takes $1 for every $3 earned over the income limit. No penalty applies when you reach the month of your birthday in the year you reach full retirement age. Social Security recommends that you notify it of your intent to retire in the year of your full retirement age to determine the best month for you to retire.
How a Penalty Affects You
You lose the benefits when you earn income beyond the limits, but if you are subject to a penalty, Social Security will recalculate your benefits at full retirement age. Once you reach full retirement age, if you have incurred significant penalties, you should see an increase in your Social Security benefits for all months after you reach full retirement age. So, the benefits are not actually lost; Social Security delays them because of your income. Once you reach full retirement age, you can earn any amount of income without penalty.
- Social Security Online: OASDI and SSI Program Rates & Limits, 2011
- Social Security Online: Publication 05-10069 -- How Work Affects Your Benefits
- Social Security Online: Publication 05-10147 -- When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits
- Social Security Online: Publication 05-10035 -- Retirement Benefits
Linda Richard has been a legal writer and antiques appraiser for more than 25 years, and has been writing online for more than 12 years. Richard holds a bachelor's degree in English and business administration. She has operated a small business for more than 20 years. She and her husband enjoy remodeling old houses and are currently working on a 1970s home.