Members of the Uniformed Services (this includes Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and the Reserve components of the same and the Public Health Service, the US National Guard, and the Air National Guard) have been covered by Social Security since Jan. 1, 1957. Credit for Social Security purposes includes active duty time or active duty time for training.
Members of the Armed Forces Reserve while on inactive duty training (such as weekend drills) have been covered by Social Security since Jan. 1, 1988. Any individual who served in the military before Jan. 1, 1957 (for example, during World War II or during the Korean War) did not pay into Social Security. However, these individuals may be given military service wage credits for Social Security purposes based on this service.
An individual who retires from the Uniformed Services, for either active duty or reserve retirement, may receive a full military retirement benefit and full Social Security benefits when first eligible. There is no offset or reduction to either benefit. Social Security benefits are based on an individual’s Social Security earnings record.
“Extra earnings” Social Security credits
An individual’s Social Security retirement benefit depends on the individual’s Social Security-covered earnings history. In general, the higher one’s Social Security wage earnings over his or her lifetime, the larger will be the individual’s future Social Security retirement benefit.
Under certain circumstances “special earnings” will be credited to a Uniformed Service member’s military pay record for Social Security purposes. The extra earnings are for periods of active duty or active duty for training. These extra earnings will increase the amount of a Uniformed Service member’s Social Security retirement benefit.
The special Social Security earnings credit for periods of active duty from 1957 through 2001 are based on the fact that certain benefits associated with active duty are not subject to federal income and payroll (Social Security/FICA) taxes. These extra benefits include for examples housing allowances and travel pay.
According to the Social Security publication (Publication No. 05-10017, January 2020), Military Service and Social Security (may be downloaded at https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10017.pdf), the Social Security Administration credits a Uniformed Service member’s earnings record as follows:
· From 1957 through 1977, a Uniformed Service member is credited with $300 in additional earnings credit for each calendar quarter (January – March, April – June, July – September, and October – December) in which the member was on active duty.
· From 1978 through 2001, for every $300 in active duty pay, a Uniformed Service member is credited with an additional $100 in earnings credits up to a maximum of $1,200 a year.
· Any individual who enlisted after September 7, 1980 and did not complete at least 24 months of active duty or a full tour of duty, may not be able to receive the additional earnings. Those individuals should check with the Social Security Administration if they think they are entitled to the additional earnings credits, up to $1,200 per year.
Note that attendance at a service academy (U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, CO, and U.S. Coast Guard Academy at New London, CT) counts for active duty service time. Also, note that military retirees for active duty time are not eligible for these extra earnings credits.
How special earnings credits for the period 1957 through 2001 are credited
According to the Social Security publication Military Service and Social Security (Publication No. 05-10017, January 2020), the special extra earnings are credited to a Uniformed Service member’s record as follows:
· If a Uniformed Service member served on active duty at any time between 1957 through 1967, the Social Security Administration adds the extra credits to the member’s record when the member applies for his or her Social Security retirement benefit.
· If a Uniformed Service member served on active duty at any time between 1968 through 2001, the member need not do anything. The earnings credits were “automatically added” to the member’s Social Security earnings record.
Unfortunately, the information in the latter bullet is not true. The extra earnings credits for those Uniformed Service members who served on active duty between 1968 and 2001 are not “automatically” credited. These Uniform Service members must formally apply for the extra earnings credits. They do so by applying in person at a Social Security office (not online) and bring their DD 214 with them at the time they apply for their Social Security retirement benefits. When they present their DD 214, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will know which years the individual member is eligible for the extra earnings credit.
It is important for federal employees who had active duty service time in the Uniformed Services between 1968 and 2001 to be aware of:
(1) These extra earning credits; and
(2) they have to apply for them; they are not automatic. When applying for their Social Security retirement benefits, they must apply in person at a local Social Security office, bringing with them their DD 214. For most individuals, the best way to apply for their Social Security benefits is online at https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/rib. But that is not the case for any individuals who have active duty time between 1957 and 2001. They need to contact the Social Security Administration and make an appointment in order to start receiving their retirement benefits.
If any Uniformed Service member has already applied for their Social Security retirement benefit, they should consider making an appointment with Social Security in order to get their earnings credit for active duty service time applied retroactively, applied currently, and moving forward (currently for their Social Security benefit and for survivor family benefits). The SSA normally gives up to six months of missed payments in a lump sum.
For more information, refer to Social Security Publication No. 05-10017, January 2020 at: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10017.pdf
Free Retirement Workshops for Federal Employees
Live Workshop: Get the workshop schedule to attend a live FedImpact workshop near you.
Virtual: Get a list of the dates and times of available virtual (web-based) workshops here.