Automatic Determinations

Determinations:
  Lower exempt amount
  Higher exempt amount

Exempt amounts in 1975-99

Indexed program amounts

How Work Affects Your Benefits

How the earnings test works
The retirement earnings test applies only to people below normal retirement age (NRA). Social Security withholds benefits if your earnings exceed a certain level, called a retirement earnings test exempt amount, and if you are under your NRA. One of two different exempt amounts apply — a lower amount in years before the year you attain NRA and a higher amount in the year you attain NRA. These exempt amounts generally increase annually with increases in the national average wage index.

It is important to note that any benefits withheld while you continue to work are not "lost". Once you reach NRA, your monthly benefit will be increased permanently to account for the months in which benefits were withheld.

Exempt Amounts for 2015
We determine the exempt amounts using procedures defined in the Social Security Act. For people attaining NRA after 2015, the annual exempt amount in 2015 is $15,720. For people attaining NRA in 2015, the annual exempt amount is $41,880. This higher exempt amount applies only to earnings made in months prior to the month of NRA attainment.

Benefits Withheld When Earnings Exceed Exempt Amounts
We withhold $1 in benefits for every $2 of earnings in excess of the lower exempt amount. We withhold $1 in benefits for every $3 of earnings in excess of the higher exempt amount. Earnings in or after the month you reach NRA do not count toward the retirement test.

Annual Retirement Earnings Test Exempt Amounts
Year Lower amount a Higher amount b
2000 $10,080$17,000
2001 10,68025,000
2002 11,28030,000
2003 11,52030,720
2004 11,64031,080
2005 12,00031,800
2006 12,48033,240
2007 12,96034,440
2008 13,56036,120
2009 14,16037,680
2010 14,16037,680
2011 14,16037,680
2012 14,64038,880
2013 15,12040,080
2014 15,48041,400
2015 15,72041,880
a Applies in years before the year of attaining NRA.
b Applies in the year of attaining NRA, for months prior to such attainment.

From 1983-1999 the higher exempt amounts applied at ages 65 through 69, as shown in our historical series of exempt amounts.