Q&A: His new job won’t hurt future Social Security benefits

Dear Liz: I am 67 and currently receiving a Social Security survivor’s benefit based on my deceased spouse’s work record. At 70, I plan to switch to my own Social Security retirement benefit. I’ve been offered a part-time position with a charity that I’d like to accept. However, I am concerned about how it will affect my Social Security. If I show earned income this year, it will knock off one of my 35 highest-earning years. If I stay in this position for many years, as I hope to do, each year could knock off a high-earning year. I’ve offered to do the job for free, but that is not an option for them. My high-earning years are in the $55,000 range, while this job pays maybe $6,000 a year. Am I wrong? Is not working reducing my benefit, and should I switch to my Social Security now?

Answer: Social Security can be surprisingly complicated, which is why it’s so easy to get the facts wrong and make unfortunate choices.

“Highest earning” means just that. A current year can’t “knock off” a previous year unless you make more than you did in that prior year. Only if you make more than one of those prior years will the older year be dropped from the formula. And if that happens, your benefit would go up, not down.

So take the job, enjoy giving back to your community, and allow your own benefit to continue growing by 8% each year until it maxes out at age 70.

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