Mailbag: Gross vs. Net Wages for the Social Security Earnings Limit

answers to social security questions

A reader wants to know what earnings will count towards the Social Security income limit.


I am 65 years old and went back to work 3 days a week and draw social security. My taxable income for 2 weeks is $1063, I now am taking $160 out of my check at putting in my Ky deffered account and now my taxable income is $904. My question is what amount is counted toward my limit of $15,720.


This is a great question! When the Social Security Administration defines which earning count towards the income limit, they will use the general terms “wages” and “net income from self-employment.” If you’re not self-employed, this leaves many to wonder if the countable wages are gross (before deductions) or net (after deductions).

I had this same question at a recent webinar.  A participant in California was earning $28,000 per year in part time work. She was contributing $15,000 to her 401k. Her question was very similar to yours. “Will they consider me to have earned $28,000 or $13,000?” I didn’t have to dig far to find the definitive answer. You can see this too in the Social Security’s piece “How Work Affects Your Benefits.”

“We do count an employee’s contribution to a pension or retirement plan, however, if the contribution amount is included in the employee’s gross wages.”

 That’s pretty clear. The amount of income used to determine whether or not you are subject to the earnings test is your gross wages.

Something else about your question that stood out to me was that you are currently 65 years of age. In my article The Social Security Earnings Limit and Working In Retirement, I discuss how the earnings limit The Social Security earnings limit is split into two categories.

1) Earnings when you are age 62 through January 1 of the year you attain full retirement age

2) Earnings after January 1 of the year you reach full retirement age

In the first category, the limit is $15,720. If your earnings exceed that amount, the Social Security Administration will withhold $1 for every $2 over the limit.

The second category begins on January 1 of the year you attain full retirement age. During that period you can earn $41,880 before the Social Security earnings limitation is applied. If you go over that amount, they will withhold $1 for every $3 over the limit.

So, if you are turning 66 this year, your current Social Security benefit may not be subject to the earnings limit at all.

If you are subject to the earnings limitation, I would suggest not waiting for the Social Security Administration to cut off your benefit. Instead, I’d recommend that you voluntarily suspend benefits. If you wait on them to cut you off, your risk of an overpayment notice is higher.

In any case, if your benefits begin to be withheld because you are making too much, don’t worry…you aren’t missing payments that you’ll never get back. The Social Security Administration will simply recalculate your benefit amount at your full retirement age (or when you stop working) to reflect the months that benefits were withheld.

I hope this helps!

A note for all readers

First, thanks for being a loyal reader and supporter of my blog! I’m continually amazed at the month over month increase in visitors.

As the number of readers increase, so do the emails I receive. Most of these questions are from visitors who have a Social Security issue and cannot find the help they need. Since I think solid Social Security advice is so important, I have tried to answer every email that I receive. However, I simply can’t keep up. The quantity of incoming email has just gotten too high.

That stinks because I love interacting with my readers and answering Social Security questions!

In the future I’ll continue to answer as many questions as possible. The questions and answers that’ll have priority are those that may benefit a wider audience. I’ll answer the question and then publish the Q&A on my blog. (Don’t worry, I’ll change up enough personal details so you’ll stay unknown.)

If you want to make sure I answer your question, I am still accepting individual consultations. You can click HERE for more information on booking.

Thanks for reading!