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Ask the Expert: How does not working affect Social Security benefits?

I won't reach my full retirement age (FRA) until February of 2023. What if I retire next year at 65, but don't apply for Social Security until my FRA or later? Will my benefit be reduced because I've had no earnings for a year or two before applying for Social Security?

The easiest way to find out is to use the Social Security Retirement Estimate calculator on the agency's website. It’s linked to your actual earnings record. Type in your assumptions about how many years you'll work and how much you'll earn to see how those changes might affect your estimated retirement benefit.

But remember, this is just an estimate. Your future benefit can be affected by changes in the law and by cost-of-living adjustments as well as by your earnings.

Your monthly benefit at full retirement age — it’s called your Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA -- is based on 35 years of your highest earnings, no matter when those years occurred in your work history. If you already have 35 years of earnings history, and your highest-earning years are behind you, a future year or two of unemployment might have relatively little impact on your PIA.

If you continue to postpone your Social Security application after you reach your full retirement age, your PIA will be increased by Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs). DRCs are worth about 8% a year for up to four years of delay. (In other words, a four year post-FRA delay could grow your benefit check by 32%.) DRCs aren't affected by your not working after you reach full retirement age because they're not based on earnings.

The bottom line

The Social Security Retirement Estimator calculator can show you how working fewer years or earning less might affect your benefit.

More information

bit.ly/ssaretirementbenefits

bit.ly/ssaretirementestimator

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.

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