published Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Social Security: Military experience can boost your benefits

Martin Coffey

Q Mr. L asks: "I have heard that if you are a veteran, that when you sign up for Social Security you receive $100 more a month. Is this true?"

A Your Social Security benefit depends on your earnings, averaged over your working lifetime. Generally, the higher your earnings, the higher your Social Security benefit.

Under certain circumstances, special earnings can be credited to your military pay record for Social Security purposes. The extra earnings are for periods of active duty or active duty for training.

These extra earnings may help you qualify for Social Security or increase the amount of your Social Security benefit.

If you served in the military after 1956, you paid Social Security taxes on those earnings. Since 1988, inactive duty service in the Armed Forces Reserves (such as weekend drills) also has been covered by Social Security.

Under certain circumstances, special extra earnings for periods of active duty from 1957 through 2001 also can be credited to your Social Security earnings record for benefit purposes:

From 1957 through 1967, we will add the extra credits to your record when you apply for Social Security benefits.

From 1968 through 2001, you do not need to do anything to receive these extra credits. The credits were automatically added to your record.

After 2001, there are no special extra earnings credits for military service.

The information that follows explains how you can get credit for special extra earnings and applies only to active duty military service earnings from 1957 through 2001:

• From 1957 through 1977, you are credited with $300 in additional earnings for each calendar quarter in which you received active duty basic pay.

• From 1978 through 2001, for every $300 in active duty basic pay, you are credited with an additional $100 in earnings up to a maximum of $1,200 a year. If you enlisted after Sept. 7, 1980, and didn't complete at least 24 months of active duty or your full tour, you may not be able to receive the additional earnings.

• If you served in the military from 1940 through 1956, including attendance at a service academy, you did not pay Social Security taxes. However, your Social Security record may be credited with $160 a month in earnings for military service from Sept. 16, 1940, through Dec. 31, 1956, under the following circumstances:

• You were honorably discharged after 90 or more days of service, or you were released because of a disability or injury received in the line of duty.

• You still are on active duty.

• You are applying for survivors benefits and the veteran died while on active duty.

• You cannot receive credit for these special earnings if you already are receiving a federal benefit based on the same years of service.

There is one exception: If you were on active duty after 1956, you still can get the special earnings for 1951 through 1956, even if you are receiving a military retirement based on service during that period.

These extra earnings credits are added to your earnings record when you apply for Social Security benefits.

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 e-mailing him at dflessner@timesfreepress.com.

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