How Military Service Affects Your Social Security Benefits – Special Earnings Rate for Some Veterans

Military service qualifies many veterans who served from 1940 - 2001 for additional Social Security benefits & special military earnings rate
Advertising Disclosure.

Advertiser Disclosure: The Military Wallet and Three Creeks Media, LLC, its parent and affiliate companies, may receive compensation through advertising placements on The Military Wallet. For any rankings or lists on this site, The Military Wallet may receive compensation from the companies being ranked; however, this compensation does not affect how, where, and in what order products and companies appear in the rankings and lists. If a ranking or list has a company noted to be a “partner,” the indicated company is a corporate affiliate of The Military Wallet. No tables, rankings, or lists are fully comprehensive and do not include all companies or available products.

The Military Wallet and Three Creeks Media have partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. The Military Wallet and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. For more information, please see our Advertising Policy.

American Express is an advertiser on The Military Wallet. Terms Apply to American Express benefits and offers.

Did you know that your military service may affect your Social Security benefits? This is a little-known benefit that affects many current and former military members. Every member of the armed forces needs to know how their military service affects their Social Security benefits, regardless of age. This will help you better prepare for your retirement. Let’s consider what you’re eligible to receive and how military service may increase your Social Security benefits for you and your family.

Table of Contents
  1. How Military Service Affects Social Security Benefits
    1. Military Service Years 1940 – 1956
    2. Military Service from 1956 – 2001, & Post – 2001
  2. When Should You Take Social Security Benefits?
    1. Social Security normal age of retirement
    2. Taking benefits early can reduce Social Security payments
    3. Increase Social Security Benefits by delaying your payments
  3. How to Increase Your Social Security Benefits
    1. Pay attention to Social Security Statements.
    2. Age at retirement affects your benefits.
    3. Working while receiving Social Security Benefits may impact your income
    4. Military veterans may be entitled to extra earnings.
    5. Will your Social Security Benefits be Taxed?
    6. Your Social Security Benefits may increase to keep up with inflation
    7. Avoid garnishments that reduce your benefits.
  4. Use this Information to Assist Your Retirement Planning

How Military Service Affects Social Security Benefits

You should be eligible for additional earnings credits if you served in the military between 1940 and 2001. These credits should be factored into your lifetime earnings used to calculate your Social Security Benefits.

How much this will impact your Social Security Benefits will depend on when and how long you served in the military. We will break these down by service era and follow up with additional tips on how you can increase your Social Security Income.

Military Service Years 1940 – 1956

Military service affects social security benfits

One of the biggest concerns people have is regarding their time served between 1940 and 1956. Social Security taxes weren’t automatically taken out of military paychecks then. But the government has worked out a plan that will credit you with earnings of $160 for each month you served during those years. This applies to service from September 16, 1940, through December 31, 1956, as long as you meet certain requirements:

  • You must have been honorably discharged after you had served a minimum of 90 days: or
  • You were injured or were disabled in the line of duty and were released; or
  • You’re still active; or
  • You apply for survivor benefits because the veteran passed away during active duty.

Other things will be considered, so be sure to ask the Social Security office for details.

Military Service from 1956 – 2001, & Post – 2001

The good news is that if you served in the military anytime after 1956, you paid the Social Security taxes, just like civilians do. There are credits you will receive if certain circumstances are met.

  • If you served between 1957 and 1967, you’ll receive extra credits when you apply for Social Security.
  • If you served between 1968 and 2001, these credits have been added to your record.
  • If you served after 2001, you won’t receive extra credits.

When you apply for Social Security benefits, these extra earnings credits are added to your earnings record. In all cases, the additional earnings are credited to the earnings that we average over your working lifetime, not directly to your monthly benefit amount.

The Social Security Administration should handle this process when you apply for Social Security Benefits when you apply, or your service may already be accounted for. However, it’s always a good idea to verify this information – and just one more reason why your DD Form 214 (record of military service) is so important!


Comprehensive financial planning and advice
Take the Guesswork out of Finding a VA Lender

Check your VA Home Loan eligibility and get personalized rates. Answer a few questions and we'll connect you with a trusted VA lender to answer any questions you have about the VA loan program.


When Should You Take Social Security Benefits?

Many people take Social Security benefits as soon as they are eligible to begin receiving them, which for many Americans is age 62. But just because you can begin receiving Social Security benefits doesn’t mean you should take them immediately.

For example, you can increase your Social Security payments by delaying when you receive them. Here are a few things to consider concerning when to begin receiving Social Security Benefits.

When Should You Take Social Security Benefits

Delaying when you take Social Security Benefits can result in higher payments. In general, you can begin receiving Social Security Benefits at age 62, but in many cases, it’s worth delaying your start date for receiving Social Security payments if possible.

This is because the Social Security Administration uses a sliding scale based on the year of your birth to determine your “normal” retirement age and the amount of money you will receive. Taking Social Security Benefits at age 62 may cause you to only be eligible to receive a partial payment.

Social Security normal age of retirement

Until 2002, the “normal retirement age” for everyone was at the age of 65. According to the Social Security Administration, the “normal retirement age” is the age a which beneficiaries receive full Social Security Benefits. The list below shows the “normal retirement age” based on the year you were born.

  • 1937 or earlier – 65 years of age
  • 1938 – 65 and 2 months
  • 1939 – 65 and 4 months
  • 1940 – 65 and 6 months
  • 1941 – 65 and 8 months
  • 1942- 65 and 10 months
  • 1943-1954 – 66 years of age
  • 1955 – 66 and 2 months
  • 1956 – 66 and 4 months
  • 1957 – 66 and 6 months
  • 1958 – 66 and 8 months
  • 1959 – 66 and 10 months
  • 1960 or later – 67 years of age

Taking benefits early can reduce Social Security payments

You will receive reduced benefits if you decide to take Social Security benefits before the time of your normal retirement age. The total amount is reduced by five-ninths of 1% for each month you are under your normal retirement age, up to 36 months. If you are to receive benefits and you start more than 36 months before retirement age, your benefits will be further reduced by an amount of five-twelfths of 1% a month. Here is more information about the age reduction of Social Security Benefits.

Increase Social Security Benefits by delaying your payments

Good things come to those who wait. You can increase Social Security benefits by waiting a few years to begin receiving them. If you accept your benefits after reaching your normal retirement age, you’ll get the full amount due to you with no reduction. You can even get additional Social Security credits be delaying your benefits start date after your normal retirement age. You will receive an additional percentage on your monthly Social Security check with each month you delay until you reach age 70.

How to Increase Your Social Security Benefits

The Social Security System greatly benefits taxpayers who paid into the system over the years. Unfortunately, it can be a little confusing if you haven’t had time to research available Social Security Benefits. This should not discourage recipients from learning as much as possible about the benefits they are entitled to receive. Failure to understand the system could cost you money at a time when you can least afford the loss.

Here we look at tips to increase social security benefits and make it easier in retirement years.

Pay attention to Social Security Statements.

Over the years, you have probably noticed an annual social security statement arriving in your mailbox. The Social Security Administration no longer mails these statements. But you can register for a free online account at SSA.gov, where you can view your annual earnings statement and projected Social Security Benefits when you reach retirement age.

It is important to pay attention to the information contained in this statement. Carefully review your statement each year to ensure the earnings that have been reported are correct.

This history of your earnings plays an important role in determining your Social Security benefits. If you notice errors in the statement, it is your responsibility to report these mistakes to ensure the correct information is being used to determine your benefits. Correcting an error in your lifetime earnings could significantly increase social security benefits.

Age at retirement affects your benefits.

As mentioned above – you can earn less than, equal to, or greater than, the normal Social Security Benefit for your lifetime earnings, depending on when you begin taking Social Security payments.

Depending on when you were born, the full retirement age is between 65 and 67 years of age. Individuals may begin receiving benefits earlier (age 62) however, it can reduce your benefits by up to 30%. Whenever possible, holding off retirement until full retirement age is reached is in the best interest of your financial security in the future. Here is a full Social Security benefits chart by age. You will receive more money in the long run if you wait to take Social Security Benefits.

Working while receiving Social Security Benefits may impact your income

If you are still working, understand that your benefits may be reduced if you take them before your retirement age. For every $2 you earn above the annual allowance, you will lose $1 in benefits. At the normal retirement age, you will lose $1 for each $3 you earn above a higher limit for income earned before the month you reach your retirement age.

Military veterans may be entitled to extra earnings.

As mentioned above, servicemembers who have served on active duty between 1940 and 2001 are entitled to extra earnings that will boost their Social Security benefits. Men and women who have served during these periods must check to make sure credits have been added to their records. This happened automatically for military members who served between 1968 and 2001, but it is still a good idea to confirm you are receiving the full benefits to which you are entitled.

Will your Social Security Benefits be Taxed?

The government has established income thresholds to determine who pays taxes on benefits and who will not. If half of your Social Security income, investment earnings, pension payments, tax-exempt interest, and other wages surpass the threshold, you may find yourself owing taxes on benefits. The thresholds are determined by your filing status and may result in you owing taxes on 50% – 85% of your benefits.

Your Social Security Benefits may increase to keep up with inflation

The government applies an annual Cost of Living Adjustment, or COLA, to Social Security Benefits each year. The COLA is based on the Consumer Price Index or CPI. How much it increases depends on how the cost of living has changed over the course of the previous 4 quarters. The government also recently transitioned to Chained CPI, which impacts how the COLA calculations are made each year.

Avoid garnishments that reduce your benefits.

Generally, Social Security benefits are protected from most debt collection actions. This is not the case with back taxes, outstanding federal student loans, child support, and alimony. If you have any of these debts lurking in your past, take the necessary steps to satisfy your debt obligations to protect your benefits from garnishments.

When you understand how your benefits work and what you can do to increase your Social Security paycheck. For many retirees, this paycheck may be the only income they will receive during their retirement years. Whether Social Security is your only source of income or a supplement to other sources of income, you must get the benefits to which you are entitled.

See What You Qualify For

Select an option to continue:

Home Purchase
Home Refinance
Cash-out Refinance
Explore My Options
Get Started

Use this Information to Assist Your Retirement Planning

If you are unsure where you stand with benefit amounts, you can contact the Social Security Administration to request a copy of a current benefits statement. Your individualized statement will include payouts for benefits taken at age 62, at your normal retirement age, and age 70. Statements are available on the SSA.gov website.

You’ll need to assess your financial situation to determine your need and time frame for benefits. If you have the means to support yourself, you may find it beneficial to wait as long as you can to request benefits.

If you can not live without the additional funds before reaching your normal retirement age, you should consider taking the reduced benefit payments to stay on track financially. The decision should be based on your needs, your spouse’s age, and even your life expectancy based on your present medical situation and family history.

When you come of age to start drawing Social Security, you will not only receive your normal Social Security benefits but also added benefits for serving in the military if you served in the years mentioned above. Remember to verify you are receiving this additional benefit. You should also double-check for this benefit when applying for Social Security survivor benefits to ensure survivors receive additional military service credits.

The added Social Security benefits and military retirement pay or other retirement investments, such as the Thrift Savings Plan or a Roth IRA, can help you secure your finances and afford a comfortable retirement.


About Post Author

Get Instant Access
FREE Weekly Updates! Enter your information to join our mailing list.

Posted In:

Reader Interactions

Comments

    Leave A Comment:

    Comments:

    About the comments on this site:

    These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

  1. Bob Williams says

    Great article. I’m trying to verify my special credits were added. Do you have an example of what the earnings page would look like to show they were automatically added? I would think the column for Social Security Earnings would differ from the column Medicare earnings. Am I right about that? I’m about to start drawing and want to make sure I get all the benefits coming.

    Thx,

    Bob

  2. Kevin T. Hawkins says

    Hi, is the amount I see in my social security statement include my military service as the total amount with my service, or will I receive an extra amount be added when I apply for social security? I served from 1975 to 1999

    Thank you
    Kevin T. Hawkins
    MSgt USMC (Ret.)

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Robert, Yes, I believe you are, based on the information provided by the Social Security Administration. You will need to contact the SSA office for more information and you may be required to provide proof of service. Best wishes!

  3. Kenneth (Dale) Howard says

    US NAVY Buddy We went through boot together. He was discharged after a few months From PTSD (medical). He was on a ship during a hurricane and another buddy was washed overboard (and lost at sea) 1959- 1960. After my separation in 1963, we reconnected. He was married, with children. He needed help with driving violations fines. I had no money give (taking care of my family needs). Fast forward to the 1990s, he locates me and needs help. I help but it was short-lived. He committed suicide & I felt that he never recovered from PTSD. My question: is it possible the VA would help is Widow (I believe they were divorced)? I have not been in contact with her (it ways on my mind that I hope she is receiving care from VA).

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Kenneth,

      I’m sorry to hear about this situation.

      There may be certain benefits available to widows of veterans, depending on the situation. The widow would need to visit the VA for a benefits analysis to see if she is eligible for any benefits. I am not certain if there are any benefits for former spouses after a divorce. Again, the VA would be the best place to start.

      I wish you and your family the best.

  4. Marie Wurch says

    My husband who was born in Canada, his parents then moved family to CA when he was a teenager. He was drafted into the Army in 1966 served 2 years got out and now he is 74 and went to get replacement Social Security Card and was told he is not a U.S. Citizen. His DD214 is marked that he is and he was told that the Army had no right to do that. Needless to say this causes more problems than we can deal with. Any help or assistance would be greatly appreciated.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Marie, This is outside of my area of expertise. You will want to work with the Social Security Administration or immigration department for more information. You may also consider contacting an immigration lawyer to see if they can help you. Best wishes.

  5. Jay says

    Ryan, great article, thank you.

    Nagging question from a conversation with a group of guys last night. I’ve just been Googling around trying to find an answer to my Q and came across your article. Wondered if you wouldn’t mind commenting.

    Background: Friend’s elderly Mom is a foreigner, dual USA citizenship, lived in the US for many years. Her American husband retired US Military (pre and post Vietnam era), receiving military retirement, SS benefits later on, and a small, private pension from Pratt and Whitney. They eventually left the US, retired overseas in her country of origin, where he passed away some years later.

    When he died, friend said his Mom had to choose which survivor benefit to receive. Made it sound like the choice was between military survivor benefit or SSA, which she qualified under his account/earnings. But couldn’t receive both.

    I’d never heard of that. Some kind of a windfall provision or something? No action related to this, just my curiosity. Thanks.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Jay, I haven’t heard of this before, but I admit I’m not an expert when it comes to Social Security Benefits. I have researched a bit here and there, and have foundational knowledge, but I’m not at the expert level. This is a question for someone at the SSA or at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), which is the organization that runs military pay and military retiree pay. Sorry I don’t have a better answer for you!

  6. John says

    Hello Ryan,

    I am retired military and I also receive 50% VA disability. Will I be able to draw social security retirement also?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello John, yes you will be able to draw Social Security pay as well. Drawing military retirement pay and/or VA disability compensation should not impact your ability to draw Social Security benefits in retirement. Best wishes!

  7. Scott martin says

    Hey just got a letter from social security saying that the declared since my bladder cancer was removed I’m loosing my benefits. But the cancer was just one of 3 disability I filled for the Ptsd being the main one keeping me from working. I am 90% threw VA being paid at 100% unemployable. Due to my service connection I’m not understanding how they say I am able to work when I can’t leave the house without my Ptsd causes problems. My only option I have now is to have it reviewed. Is there any advice or other options you can help me with? So since I can’t work because VA has me as unemployable what options does that leave me with. Stressing out right now.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Scott, This is outside my area of expertise. Social Security Disability Benefits can be a complicated topic and each situation is unique and has to be addressed on a case by case basis. I’m not qualified to do this. I recommend contacting the Social Security Administration for assistance. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  8. Mike Traman says

    I am thinking of retiring at 62. Served 1972-1978. Can I get VA healthcare until Medicaid kicks in at 65?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Mike, I can’t tell you whether or not you qualify for VA healthcare based on an email. Each situation is unique and eligibility can be based on many factors (when and where you served, whether or not you were in a named war or conflict, whether or not you have a service-connected disability rating, your income, and other factors). You will need to contact the VA for more specific information. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  9. mike mann says

    Hello, my brother was in the military for 30 years and is collecting retirement pay. He started his military service around 1978. He will be turning 57 this year. When is the earliest(age) he can collect social security benefits? I thought he might collect in lieu of social security soon.

    thank you

  10. Gary Trowbridge says

    I am a veteran from 1954 to 1958, I see where I may be able to get extra money for being in the service during that time, on my SS each month, can anyone tell about this?

    • Daniel K. says

      You should qualify for the credits, at least the 57 thru 58 years. You will need to contact the SS office and provide your DD-214. Below is the link to the SS web site documents that explains this credit benefit. But contacting the SS admin with your DD-214 is best way to get this resolved and get the benefit if qualified. Sounds like you are with those years of service, but they will not automatically give it to you for those years served. You must apply for it. May be retroactive to if it was never started when you started SS benefits. Here ya go. Good luck to you:

      https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10017.pdf

      Here is a paragraph from this SS document link:

      “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) has also been covered by Social Security.

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

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

  11. Malcolm R. Lee says

    Hey Ryan, I served in the Navy (Silent Service) from 12/70 to 2/75. I have worked, and paid taxes. In 2012; I had blood in my urine, and the VA Hosp considered it an infection. In 2013; The bleeding started back, and the results showed, I had bladder cancer. I was unable to work, and SS didn’t consider it a disability. However; the VA considered it TPD. I have completed numerous exploritories, two major operations with chemo, and my resistance was so low that, I contracted infections in both legs resulting in mercer. Three operations in nine days. I tell you these things in order to set my question. I recieve a non-military related pension. If I draw my social security, will either of these small incomes be effected? With both; I would still fall under the poverty line. Do yu have an answer, and if not, where can I find the answer. I plan on drawing my SS, next year at 66. Thank you, Malcolm R. Lee, Waynesville, NC

  12. Shanna says

    I have a relative that claims that her deceased boyfriend is providing her and her son $8,000.00 a month on Social Security. Here are some interesting facts. They were never married. Her child is the result of a one night stand. The deceased father’s name has never been on the child’s birth certificate. He was in the military for a short time, estimated a few years, most likely after 2001. The deceased was 32 years old in 2013 when he died. My relative is claiming she is receiving so much money because of the fact that the deceased was in the military and that the payments will also further after the child is 18 onto a full ride to fund college for the child. Non of this makes any sense from what I have learned from reading about Social Security Benefits and Military. Can someone please verify if any of this is possible? Thank you.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Shanna, I haven’t heard of anything like this before. And $8,000 a month for Social Security Survivor Benefits seems very high. Here is the SSA website for Survivors Benefits. Also, most military members don’t earn $8,000 per month when they are on active duty (especially if they are only age 32). I don’t see how this is possible.

  13. Steve Pace says

    I looked at my Social Security statement last month. I do not draw Social Security yet. However, I noticed that they did not list any of my retired military pay as income, only pay from active duty and my civilian jobs. Taxes (Federal and State), Social Security, and Medicare are deducted from my retired pay identifying this as source of income. Why is Social Security not counting my retired pay as income? Is this normal for all retirees?

  14. Terry J Lirette says

    I am 71 years old and started with SS at age 64 due to my wife’s health. I served in the Navy for five years and in the reserves for five years from 1957 to 1867.
    I do not know if that was factored in, I called, left a message, no call back.
    Bummer!

  15. Paul Moeseenko says

    Hi Ryan,
    I just wanted to comment on your article regarding receiving military credits and how they affect ones social security benefits. Specifically, the following statement:
    “These extra credits are converted into money that you’ll receive in addition to your standard Social Security benefits”.
    This is misleading, if not totally wrong. The extra credits are not money amounts that one will receive “in addition to your standard Social Security benefits”.
    The following is a statement directly from the social security website:
    “NOTE: In all cases, the additional earnings are credited to the earnings that we average over your working lifetime, not directly to your monthly benefit amount.”
    Since the monthly benefit amount is an average of the highest 35 years of income, the additional military credit will generally amount to practically nothing.
    Regards,
    Paul

The Military Wallet is a property of Three Creeks Media. Neither The Military Wallet nor Three Creeks Media are associated with or endorsed by the U.S. Departments of Defense or Veterans Affairs. The content on The Military Wallet is produced by Three Creeks Media, its partners, affiliates and contractors, any opinions or statements on The Military Wallet should not be attributed to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the Dept. of Defense or any governmental entity. If you have questions about Veteran programs offered through or by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, please visit their website at va.gov. The content offered on The Military Wallet is for general informational purposes only and may not be relevant to any consumer’s specific situation, this content should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If you have questions of a specific nature consider consulting a financial professional, accountant or attorney to discuss. References to third-party products, rates and offers may change without notice.

Advertiser Disclosure: The Military Wallet and Three Creeks Media, LLC, its parent and affiliate companies, may receive compensation through advertising placements on The Military Wallet. For any rankings or lists on this site, The Military Wallet may receive compensation from the companies being ranked; however, this compensation does not affect how, where, and in what order products and companies appear in the rankings and lists. If a ranking or list has a company noted to be a “partner,” the indicated company is a corporate affiliate of The Military Wallet. No tables, rankings, or lists are fully comprehensive and do not include all companies or available products.

Editorial Disclosure: Editorial content on The Military Wallet may include opinions. Any opinions are those of the author alone, and not those of an advertiser to the site nor of  The Military Wallet.

Information from your device can be used to personalize your ad experience.