Why working 35 years can be important to your social security earnings

Many people are surprised to learn that working fewer than 35 years before claiming Social Security benefits can diminish their benefit potential in retirement. That’s because Social Security benefits are based on lifetime earnings. While the formula itself is complex, the Social Security Administration (SSA) only factors in your top 35 years of earnings in calculating how much you will receive at your full retirement age (65 or older, depending on your date of birth).

So what happens if you have less than 35 years of Social Security eligible earnings?

A break in work of a year or more due to a layoff for example, or taking time to care for growing children or aging parents, results in the SSA averaging “zeros” for those years. To eliminate the zeros assigned to your non-working years, you would need to work enough additional years to reach a full 35 years of earnings.

Also, since the SSA formula takes your top 35 years into account and gives you credit for working longer, there is a double benefit to working a year or two longer than you had planned, especially if the later years of your career are also your highest-earning years. The more years you work, the more “lower earning” years you potentially eliminate from your benefit calculation.

If you’re interested in learning more about maximizing your Social Security benefits or other income in retirement, please contact one of our Investment Representatives at your convenience.


This information is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information on the subjects covered. It is not, however, intended to provide specific legal, tax, or other professional advice. For specific professional assistance, the services of an appropriate professional should be sought.

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