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SSAB Releases Paper on Social Security’s Retirement Earnings Test

December 14, 2023

Washington, DC – Today, the Board released Retirement Trajectories and Social Security’s Retirement Earnings Test. The retirement earnings test (RET) temporarily withholds or reduces the Social Security retirement benefits of people who are below full retirement age (FRA) and whose earned income is above a certain threshold. Monthly benefits are later increased at FRA to account for the months when benefits were withheld or reduced under the RET.

Previous studies show that most people do not fully understand how the RET works. Given the varied retirement paths people take, it is important for older workers and their families to understand the implications of the RET for their work and retirement decisions.

Using Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data on a cohort of baby boomers born from 1948 to 1953, the Board found:

  • More than half followed a nontraditional retirement path involving either part-time work or a return to work before permanently leaving the workforce.
  • Half of those who returned to work reported receiving Social Security retirement benefits before returning to work.
  • Of these people, 40 percent were below FRA when they returned to work.

Read the Report

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a webpage, brochure, and online RET calculator to educate the public. However, the Board found that not all the information is conveyed consistently or clearly. The Board recommended SSA use plain language, ensure information is consistent and accurate across resources, make tools such as the RET calculator easier to find and use, and consider reminding workers how the RET operates at various points during their careers.


The Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994 (Public Law 103-296) established a bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board composed of seven Board members appointed by Congress and the White House. Supported by a professional staff, the Board provides advice and recommendations to the President, Congress, and the Commissioner of Social Security on matters related to the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs and policies.