Q&A: Social Security earning years matter

Dear Liz: In a recent column, you wrote that Social Security’s estimates of the dollar amount one will receive at various ages — 62, full retirement age of 66 to 67, or 70 — assumes one continues working until one applies. Therefore, one won’t receive the amount posted at full retirement age if one had stopped working at, say, age 62. Aren’t people’s benefits based on their top 35 earning years?

Answer: Yes, which is why I wrote that the benefit may be lower. Social Security assumes you’ll keep earning the same amount you are now. Those assumed future earnings could be high enough to replace one or more of your previous 35 highest-earning years. If that’s the case, your estimated benefit could be somewhat larger than the one you actually receive if you stop work early.