Q: Does the annual earnings test apply to survivor benefits?
A: Yes, most of the time.
In general, annual earnings test levels apply to anyone younger than full retirement age (FRA) and receiving Social Security benefits unless that person receives benefits because of his or her own disability. This applies even if a person receives benefits through the work record of someone else, which would be the circumstances for survivors benefits.
For survivors benefits, if younger than their full retirement age, this could involve a widow, widower, surviving divorced spouse or even a child receiving survivor benefits.
Not to make the general rule complicated, but sometimes a family member might receive Social Security survivors benefits because that family member is disabled. For example, a disabled widow or widower or disabled adult child could receive survivors benefits. Since that person would be receiving benefits because of his or her own disability, the annual earnings test would not apply to them.
In addition, the earnings test would not apply to a person receiving Social Security disability but it would apply to a spouse or child receiving family benefits through that person’s record.
Earnings test levels for the year are same for benefits through the retirement, survivors or disability parts of Social Security but full retirement age for survivors benefits is different than FRA for retirement.
Annual earnings test levels for 2016, FRA for retirement, and other planning tools are in the Retirement Planner section at https://www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/.
Special rules called work incentives exist for people receiving benefits due to their own disability who return to work. Contact Social Security if returning to work when receiving benefits due to disability.