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I have heard that

  1. our Social Security payment is largely dependent on our wages for the last few years we work
  2. but I have also heard that if you earn more money, it is not going to make your Social Security payout amount go down -- it will only make it go up

So for example, for simplicity,

  1. let's say a person work from age 42 to 52, with a wage of $200,000 per year.
  2. however, at age 52, he decided to take it easy and just work at an easy job, and earn $50,000, until the age of 62

Then does his Social Security payout amount get affected by the 10 years of low wages? What if it is not 10 years but 5 years? In any case, would the payout be a higher amount if he didn't didn't work those years at a wage of $50,000?

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  • Is the assumption here that the person did not work at all before age 42? Or did he work but earn less than the $200,000 per year he earned from 42 to 52?
    – yoozer8
    Feb 7 at 17:50

2 Answers 2

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Your social security benefit is calculated based on the 35 highest payed years of your career. So if you have fewer than 35 years of work history, those non-worked years count for 0, and won't increase your payment amount. So working some extra years will only help in that case. If you slow down your work shortly before retirement and make less than you were making before, it may or may not increase your final benefit (depending on whether you have 35 years in which you made more than you are now), but the worst case is that it does nothing to increase your benefit. It is no worse than not working.

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    I think @Barmar is right. According to ssa.gov/oact/cola/Benefits.html, it's "up to 35 years".
    – Doug Deden
    Feb 7 at 16:00
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    @Barmar It's that they add them up, they don't average them. Thus people like my wife that hit 70 with only 25 years where she even could be in the workforce (immigrant) they still calculate the highest 35--there were 10 zeroes in the formula. (But it also means that any work done after she started drawing social security will increase her check.) Feb 7 at 16:23
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    @Barmar You are misunderstanding this answer. When Daniel says “those years count for 0,” he does not mean that years you worked count for zero, but years you didn’t work count for zero. If you only worked 10 years of your life, then your highest paid 35 years would necessarily include 25 zero years. Feb 7 at 17:57
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    @Barmar This answer talks about the different situations you could be in, and why in some cases extra working years can help your social security payout and in other cases it won’t have any effect. In no case would it lower your payment. +1 on this answer. Feb 7 at 18:08
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    See the actual law, 20 CFR § 404.211 (e), which is more authoritative than the SSA article. Particularly, "For benefit computation years, we use the years with the highest amounts of earnings after indexing. They may include earnings from years that were not indexed, and must include years of no earnings if you do not have sufficient years with earnings." Feb 7 at 19:50
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They add up what you contribute to social security--note that your $200k numbers are above the maximum, they will only contribute the maximum for those years (and you will also note that once that point is reached they quit taking social security tax out of your checks.)

When you earn that money is only relevant in that they inflation adjust the numbers, high earnings in the past are actually worth more than high earnings now.

What you are hearing about the last few years of wages is about many pension programs, not about social security. Many pensions are based on years and highest earnings which has resulted in a lot of abuse of people working lots of overtime just before they retire.

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    Just to be clear, "they quit taking social security out of those checks" actually means "they quit taking social security out of the amount of pay above the cutoff." Feb 7 at 17:40

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