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Early retirement will affect benefits

(ran SP, NP, TP, PT, HT, CI editions)

Question: I plan to retire when I'm 58. I know I can't receive my Social Security retirement benefits until I'm 62. I also understand that my benefits will be reduced because I am taking them before my full retirement age. But I was told the benefits also will be significantly reduced because I won't be paying into Social Security for the four years before my benefits start. Is this true?

Answer: We will base your Social Security retirement benefit on your highest 35 years of earnings. Normally, a worker's highest earning years are those just before retirement. Because you won't have any earnings from age 58 to 62, we have to factor in earnings from earlier in your working career, when you probably were not making as much as you are now. This means your retirement benefit might not be as high as it could have been had you kept working until 62. Use our online calculators at to get a better idea of the impact your early retirement will have on your Social Security benefits.

Standards for "disability' vary

Question: I have a friend who got a disability discharge from the Navy. Then he went to work for the city for seven years and eventually qualified for a disability retirement. Because two government agencies have classified him as disabled, will he automatically qualify for Social Security disability benefits?

Answer: No. Most disability pension systems have different rules and guidelines for deciding if a person is "disabled." Social Security's disability criteria are very specific. Essentially, your friend will have to demonstrate that he is unable to do any kind of work. The fact that he has been declared disabled by two other agencies will not help his efforts to get Social Security disability benefits.

When disabled husband dies

Question: I am 57 and on Social Security disability. My wife is also 57. She has always made more money than I. She works for the federal government and will get a civil service pension someday. Can she get any of my Social Security if I die?

Answer: We will have to deduct two-thirds of her civil service benefit from any Social Security widow's payments she might be due. Assuming her civil service pension will be significantly more than your Social Security benefit, that means she won't get anything on your record.

Earnings after retirement

Question: I receive Social Security benefits, but work part time and still pay into Social Security. Will the extra taxes I'm still paying increase my Social Security payment? If so, how do I apply for that increase?

Answer: If your current earnings will increase your monthly Social Security benefit, you will get it automatically. You do not have to apply for it. You generally get the increase by October of the following year. In other words, if you worked in 2002 and your earnings increased the amount of your monthly Social Security benefit, you would get a benefit adjustment by October 2003 that pays you back to January 2003 and increases your monthly amount thereafter.

_ This column was prepared by the Social Security Administration. For answers to specific Social Security questions, contact Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.