Social Security benefits are calculated using a complicated formula. The formula uses your highest 35 years of earnings.

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Q: My understanding of Social Security is that your benefit is based upon an average of your last three years of earnings.

My wife (age 60) would like to draw at age 62, using savings as a bridge from now until then.

She is currently earning about $150,000.

If she took some part-time work for a year or two, is there a way to keep that diminished income out of the average?

A: Social Security benefits are calculated on a much longer time basis, all adjusted for inflation, using a complicated formula. The formula uses your highest 35 years of earnings.

If she visits the Social Security Web site, www.ssa.gov, she can use a number of calculators to estimate her future benefits.

Recently, an improved calculator was introduced that will access your actual work record and make more accurate calculations without your having to enter your entire earnings record. This calculator can be accessed at this link: http://ssa.gov/estimator.

While working part time for a few years will have some impact on her future benefit, you will both be surprised at how small that impact is.

Most people don’t understand that the Social Security benefit formula is weighted to give the largest amount of benefits to low-wage earners. As a result, higher-wage earners get only very small benefit increases for higher wages.

Those with average monthly wages below $711 this year, for instance, are credited with 90 percent of those wages for benefit calculations. If your monthly wages are over $4,288, however, the crediting rate is only 15 percent.

The difference amounts to a steep, but hidden, progressive “tax” on benefit eligibility.

As a consequence, working part time for a few years should have little impact on the benefits your wife receives.

Questions: scott@scottburns.com