5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021

Serious senior woman looking out the window
Photo by Solarisys / Shutterstock.com

Social Security recipients likely already know that their benefits get a bump almost every year to counteract the effect of inflation. But that cost-of-living adjustment is just one of several annual tweaks to the Social Security system.

These annual changes affect people who are already retired as well as people who have yet to retire.

Following is a look at what will change for 2021.

1. Benefits will rise a smidge

Social Security recipients will see their monthly payments rise by 1.3%, as we reported in “Small Social Security Bump Sure to Disappoint Retirees — Again.” That cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, translates to an extra $20 a month, based on the average Social Security retirement payment.

Many retirees won’t see that much extra Social Security income in 2021, however. It likely will be offset in part by higher Medicare premiums and deductibles, although the federal government has yet to announce exactly what those Medicare costs will be for 2021.

For some folks, the extra income may also be offset by higher taxes, as we detail in “How the 2021 Social Security Bump Will Cost Some Retirees.”

2. The earnings limit for working retirees will edge up

If you claim Social Security retirement benefits before reaching your full retirement age and also continue working, the Social Security Administration will withhold some of your benefits if your income exceeds what’s known as the earnings limit. (There is no penalty for earnings made while working after you reach full retirement age.)

This earnings limit increases annually as the national average wage index increases. For 2021, it will rise:

  • From $18,240 to $18,960 if you will reach full retirement age after 2021
  • From $48,600 to $50,520 if you will reach full retirement age in 2021
  • No limit on earnings if you are full retirement age or older for the entire year.

The Social Security Administration notes, however, that any benefits withheld due to your income exceeding the applicable earnings limit are not “lost.” Once you reach your full retirement age, your monthly benefit is increased permanently to account for months in which benefits were withheld.

3. The tax cap on workers’ income will increase

Here’s another annual adjustment based on the increase in average wages: The maximum amount of a worker’s income that is subject to Social Security payroll taxes will rise from $137,700 in 2020 to $142,800 in 2021.

So, if you’re fortunate enough to earn more than $142,800 in 2021, you won’t owe Social Security payroll taxes on every dollar you earn.

The Social Security payroll tax rate itself will remain the same in 2021: 6.2% for employees (employers pay another 6.2%) and 12.4% for the self-employed.

4. The earnings required for one credit will increase

Not everyone is eligible for retirement benefits. As we explain in “6 Types of People Who Can’t Count on Social Security“:

“To receive Social Security retirement benefits, most people need to accumulate at least 40 ‘credits’ during their working lifetime, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). Currently, you can earn up to four credits per year if you work and pay Social Security taxes.”

The earnings required for you to receive one Social Security credit, also known as one-quarter of coverage, will rise from $1,410 in 2020 to $1,470 in 2021.

5. The maximum benefit will increase

There is a limit to how much money a retiree can receive in benefits. It’s known as the maximum Social Security benefit.

Your maximum Social Security benefit depends on the age at which you retire. The maximum benefit for someone who retires at their full retirement age will rise from $3,011 per month in 2020 to $3,148 per month in 2021.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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