In 2016, you must earn $1,260 in covered earnings to get one Social Security or Medicare work credit and $5,040 to get the maximum four credits for the year. If you were born in 1929 or later, you need 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for social security benefits.
Social Security calculates your average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. They apply a formula to these earnings and arrive at your basic benefit, or “primary insurance amount.” This is how much you would receive at your full retirement age (FRA), which is when you turn 66 or 67 (depends on when you were born). You can take social security starting at 62, but it will be permanently less than your FRA amount, and you can wait to take it past age 66/67 in which case your FRA amount will increase by 8% a year. So the more money you made over your highest 35 years, and the longer you wait to take it, means a higher amount.
If you decide to work, while taking your social security benefits before FRA, you can do that, but your benefits will be reduced. For the year 2016, this limit on earned income is $15,720 ($1,310 per month). The amount goes up each year. If you are collecting Social Security retirement benefits before full retirement age, your benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over the limit. Once you reach full retirement age, there is no limit on the amount of money you may earn and still receive your full Social Security retirement benefit. When you reach your Full Retirement Age the reduction will cease. In the year you reach your full retirement age, the SSA reduces your benefits $1 for every $3 you earn over a different annual limit ($41,880 in 2016) until the month you reach full retirement age. Then you get your full Social Security benefit payments, no matter how much you earn.
If you haven't found out what your FRA amount is, you can access your social security statement from the social security website https://secure.ssa.gov/RIL/SiView.do. Social Security doesn't send annual statements anymore, so you have to go online to see your statement.
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