Working While Receiving Spousal Social Security Benefits

Q: My wife is receiving only Social Security spousal benefits from my work record. She never worked outside the home.  She wants to get a part-time job to earn a little extra income. Will her work affect her Social Security spousal benefits?

A: Earnings after your spouse reaches full retirement age, don’t affect benefits. (The full retirement age is 66 for people born in 1943-1954 and will gradually increase to 67 for people born in 1960 or later.) Earnings before her full retirement age may decrease benefits, if she exceeds the earnings limit. If she earns more than the annual limit ($15,720.00 in 2016 and $16,920 in 2017), we deduct $1 in benefits for every $2 she earns above the limit. (There is a higher limit for the months before she reaches full retirement in the specific year she reaches full retirement age.)

Let’s look at an example to clarify.  Betty is 63 in 2016 and receives $500 per month as a spouse.  If she works in 2016 and earns over $15,720, she will lose some of her Social Security spousal benefits.  Let’s say that she earns $16,720 or $1000 over the allowable limit.  Since we withhold half of the amount over the limit, she will lose $500 in Social Security benefits.  That means that one of her monthly benefit checks will not be paid.

Let’s increase her earnings to see what happens.  Instead of $16,720, let’s say that she earns $17, 720 in 2016.  We must subtract the allowable amount ($15,720 in 2016) from her earnings for the year ($17,720).  $17, 720 – $15,720 = $2,000.  That means that we must withhold $1,000 (one-half of the amount over the limit) from her benefits.  Social Security would have to withhold two monthly payments of $500 each .   You can use our earnings calculator at https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/RTeffect.html to see what might happen in her situation.

You didn’t mention if you were working and receiving Social Security.  If you are under full retirement age and working over the limit, your earnings over the limit can also reduce her spousal benefits, but her earnings can only affect her spousal benefit (not yours).  For more information, consult our online publication, How Work Affects Your Benefits, at https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10069.pdf . If you have additional questions, contact us at 1-800-772-1213 (from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. wherever you are located in the United States).