Q: "How much can I earn a year and still get my monthly Social Security Retirement Benefit?"
A: The answer depends on your personal situation. If you are:
Full retirement age. If you were born Jan. 2, 1943, through Jan. 1, 1955, then your full retirement age for retirement insurance benefits is 66. If you work and are full retirement age or older, you may keep all of your benefits, no matter how much you earn.
Reaching full retirement age. If you reach full retirement age during 2012, we must deduct $1 from your benefits for each $3 you earn above $38,880 until the month you reach full retirement age. The year you turn your full retirement age, you are considered retired if monthly earnings are $3,240 or less until the month you reach full retirement age.
Under full retirement age. If you are younger than full retirement age during all of 2012, we must deduct $1 from your benefits for each $2 you earned above $14,640.
However, sometimes people who retire in midyear already have earned more than the yearly earnings limit. For that reason, there is a special rule that applies to earnings for one year, usually the first year of retirement. Under this rule, you can get a full Social Security check for any whole month you are retired, regardless of your yearly earnings. In 2012, a person under full retirement age for the entire year is considered retired if monthly earnings are $1,220 or less.
Self employed. If you are self-employed, we consider how much work you do in your business to determine whether you are retired.
One way is by looking at the amount of time that you spend working. In general, if you work more than 45 hours a month in self-employment, you are not retired; if you work less than 15 hours a month, you are retired. If you work between 15 and 45 hours a month, you are not considered retired if it is a job that requires a lot of skill or you are managing a sizable business.
Note: These rules only apply to beneficiaries who are receiving Social Security Retirement benefits. There are separate earning limits for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income.
Submit questions to local Social Security Director Martin Coffey by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at email@example.com.