Though Social Security has been around for decades, the program still has the potential to change from year to year. These changes that took effect in 2021 may not be obvious to everyone, but you should know about them nonetheless.
1. Benefits got a little bit higher
Each year, Social Security beneficiaries are eligible for a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. COLAs aren't guaranteed. Rather, each year, inflation data is analyzed to determine if benefits should increase so that seniors are able to maintain their buying power.
Because inflation didn't rise all that much toward the end of 2020, in 2021, Social Security recipients got a 1.3% COLA. The result? The average benefit now sits at $1,559 a month.
Next year, however, seniors may be in line for a much more substantial raise due to recent inflation. In fact, it may be beneficiaries' largest raise in decades.
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2. The wage cap rose
Higher earners don't pay Social Security taxes on all of their income. Each year, there's a wage cap implemented that dictates how much earnings are taxed.
In 2020, the wage cap sat at $137,700. This year, that cap sits at $142,800.
3. Full retirement age increased
If you're not familiar with full retirement age, or FRA, it's when Social Security recipients are eligible for their full monthly benefit based on their earnings history. Anyone born between 1943 and 1954 has a FRA of 66. But for those born in 1955, FRA is 66 and two months.
In fact, FRA will keep rising by two months for each subsequent year of birth. Those born in 1956, for example, have a FRA of 66 and four months. Eventually, FRA tapers off so that anyone born in 1960 or later has a FRA of 67.
4. The earnings test limit grew higher
Seniors are allowed to work and collect Social Security at the same time. But those who haven't yet reached FRA are subject to what's known as the earnings test. And income above the earnings test limit results in having some benefits withheld.
In 2020, workers could earn up to $18,240 without having it affect their benefits. In 2021, that limit increased to $18,960. Workers whose income exceeds that threshold risk having $1 in Social Security withheld for every $2 in earnings.
That said, those who are reaching FRA in 2021 get a higher limit -- $50,520. This isn't unique to the current year. Rather, those nearing FRA are always given more leeway as far as their earnings go. And once earnings exceed $50,520 this year, workers only have $1 in Social Security withheld for every $3 of earnings, not $2.
Pay attention to small changes
These Social Security changes may have slipped under your radar. But in reality, it's important to be aware of small changes to the program so you can adjust your plans and filing strategy accordingly.
As we gear up for 2022, we can anticipate even more Social Security changes coming down the pike. Keep an eye out for those so you know what to expect.
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