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AARP's Social Security Q&A Tool

How are Social Security benefits calculated?

En español | When you apply for benefits, Social Security looks at how much you earned during your highest-paid 35 years of work. (If you worked for fewer years, say, 30, the other five will be counted as zeroes.) Computers at the agency will calculate an average of your earnings and use that to figure out how much you'll receive in benefits each month. Generally the formulas replace a higher portion of income for low-income people than for high-income ones. If you continue to work after beginning retirement benefits, Social Security will look at your income record once a year. If the income from a new year of work exceeds that of any of the top 35, these years will replace the lower-earning years (or zeroes) in your record and perhaps increase your benefits.

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