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Monday, 30 October 2023 10:02

Social Security COLA for 2024

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In mid-October every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics re-leases its much-anticipated report on changes (usually increases) to the Consumer Price Index over the past 12 months. Why is this little, esoteric government report - actually called the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers -- so popular? Because for the past 49 years, it’s the report that determines the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that Social Security beneficiaries will get the following year.

I’m sure you already heard, all 66 million Social Security bene-ficiaries’ checks are going up 3.2% in 2024.

Due to these increases, the average monthly retirement check will be $1,907 in 2024, a $59 increase from the 2023 level. The maximum Social Security check for a worker turning full retirement age in 2024 will be $3,822, compared to $3,627 in 2023. And please note that $3,822 is the maximum for someone turning full retirement age in 2024. That does not mean it is the maximum Social Security payment anyone can receive. There are millions of Social Security beneficiaries who get much more than that, primarily because they worked well past their FRA and/or delayed starting their benefits until age 70.

Here’s another important point about the COLA. Many readers have been asking me if they must file for Social Security benefits in 2023 in order to get the COLA that’s paid in January 2024. The answer is no. The COLA will be built into the benefit computation formula. So even if you don’t file for Social Security until next year, or some subsequent year, you’ll still get the 3.2% increase.

Although this is a Social Security column, I must mention the upcoming increase in the Medicare Part B premium, which is deducted from Social Security checks for most people. In 2024, the basic Part B premium is projected to be $179.80. That’s $14.90 more than the 2023 rate. And as has been the case for 20 years now, wealthy people will pay more than the basic premium.

I don’t want to get into the complicated issue of Medicare premiums other than to make this quick point. Even though they are linked in the minds of most senior citizens, Social Security and Medicare are entirely separate programs, administered by entirely separate federal agencies, and they have entirely separate rules and regulations regarding their benefit and payment structures. For example, I already explained how Social Security COLAs are figured. The Part B Medicare premium increase has nothing to do with the Bureau of Labor’s consumer price index. Instead, by law, it must be set at a level that covers 25% of the cost of running the program. Taxpayers pick up the remaining 75%. (And again, wealthy people pay more than the 25% share.)

Another measuring stick called the “national wage index” is used to set increases to other provisions of the law that affect Social Security beneficiaries and taxpayers. Specifically, this includes increases in the amount of wages or self-employment income subject to Social Security tax; the amount of income needed to earn a “quarter of coverage”; and the Social Security earnings penalty limits.
The Social Security taxable earnings base will go up from $160,200 in 2023 to $168,600 in 2024. In other words, people who earn more than $168,600 in 2024 will no longer have Social Security payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks once they hit that threshold. This has always been a very controversial provision of the law. (Bill Gates pays the same amount of Social Security tax as his plumber!) I think it’s a pretty good bet that any eventual Social Security reform package will include an increase in that wage base.

Most people need 40 Social Security work credits (sometimes called “quarters of coverage”) to be eligible for monthly benefit checks from the system. In 2023, people who were working earned one credit for each $1,640 in Social Security taxable income. But no one earns more than four credits per year. In other words, once you made $6,560, your Social Security record has been credited with the maximum four credits or quarters of coverage. In 2024, the one credit limit goes up to $1,730, meaning you will have to earn $6,920 this coming year before you get the maximum four credits assigned to your Social Security account.

People under their full retirement age who get Social Security retirement or survivor’s benefits but who are still working are subject to limits in the amount of money they can earn and still receive all their Social Security checks. That limit was $21,240 in 2023 and will be $22,320 in 2024. For every two dollars a person earns over those limits, one dollar is withheld from his or her monthly benefits.
There is a higher earnings threshold in the year a person turns full retirement age that applies from the beginning of the year until the month the person reaches FRA. (The income penalty goes away once a person reaches that magic age.) That threshold goes up from $56,520 in 2023 to $59,520 in 2024.

A couple other Social Security provisions are also impacted by inflationary increases. For example, people getting disability benefits who try to work can generally continue getting those benefits as long as they are not working at a “substantial” level. In 2023, the law defined substantial work as any job paying $1,470 or more per month. In 2024, that substantial earnings level increases to $1,550 monthly.

Finally, the Supplemental Security Income basic federal pay-ment level for one person goes up from $914 in 2023 to $943 in 2024. SSI is a federal welfare program administered by the Social Security Administration, but it is not a Social Security benefit. It is paid for out of general revenues, not Social Security taxes.


Tom Margenau has worked for the Social Security Administration for 32 years in a variety of positions. He has written the “Social Security and You ” column for national syndication since 1997.

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