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Social Security Benefits Will Rise 3.2% In 2024, While Top Tax Jumps 5.2%

This story has been updated to include the subsequent release of Medicare Part B Premiums for 2024.

Social Security benefits will increase 3.2% in 2024 for the nation’s 71 million recipients, raising the average monthly check for a single retired worker to $1,907, up $59 from $1,827 this year, and for a retired couple both receiving benefits to $3,033, up $94 from $2,939 this year, the Social Security Administration said today. That’s a small boost compared to the 8.7% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2023 (the largest since 1981, as shown in the chart below) and reflects the damper that’s been put on inflation.

By law, the 2024 COLA is based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners (CPI-W) between the third quarter of 2022 and the third quarter of 2023—meaning it looks backwards at inflation and was set this morning when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported September’s inflation rate. Current beneficiaries should get notices in the mail in early December with their new individual 2024 benefits amounts, but can get that information sooner by setting up an individual online account and signing up for a text or email alert. Automatic Social Security COLAs have been in place since 1975, when Congress decided to take itself—and the political pressures of the day—out of an annual adjustment affecting so many voters.

The SSA also said today that the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security tax (also known as the wage base) will rise to $168,600, up 5.2% from the $160,200 base in 2022. That adjustment, which means higher taxes for about 6% of workers, is based on changes in the national average wage index, not the CPI. The Congressionally set Social Security tax rate itself is unchanged at 12.4%, with the worker and the employer each paying half and the self-employed paying the full 12.4% themselves. That means the maximum Social Security tax per worker will be rising by $1041.60 to $20,906.40, with $10,453.20 of that taken directly out of an employee’s paycheck, up from $9932.40 this year.

The maximum benefit for a high-income single worker claiming Social Security at “full” retirement age will be $3,822 a month in 2024, up from a maximum of $3,627 in 2023. But the actual maximum benefit goes up and down depending on the age at which a worker claims. For example, someone born in early 1958 will reach their full retirement age of 66 and 8 months in late 2024. But if they wait until 70 to claim, their monthly benefits will be 27% higher. This “delayed retirement credit” equals two thirds of 1% a month for each month of delay beyond the full retirement age, or 8% a year. There’s no advantage to waiting beyond 70. Those who wait past full retirement age to claim don’t lose the benefit of yearly COLAs; instead, the yearly COLA is used to adjust a recipient’s benefit at full retirement age (also known as their “primary insurance amount”) before it’s multiplied by the delayed retirement credit.

Another key set of automatic adjustments released today, this one based on the wage index, is the amount those who have claimed Social Security retirement benefits before their full retirement ages can earn from a job or self-employment without having their benefits docked. Workers can claim reduced retirement benefits at age 62, and about 30% of Americans do so. But the full retirement age is 66 for those born from 1943 to 1954 and rises by two months per year until it hits 67 for those born in 1960 or later, who take a 30% cut in monthly benefits if they claim when they turn 62.

In 2024, most of those receiving Social Security early will lose $1 in benefits for every $2 in earnings above $22,320, or $1,860 a month, up from $21,240 a year or $1,770 a month in 2023. Those who reach their full retirement age in 2024 have a more generous earnings limit. They will be able to earn up to $59,250 ($4,960) a month in the period before they reach full retirement age and will only lose $1 in benefits for each $3 earned above the limit. The earnings test has become more significant as the full retirement age rises and the percentage of older workers in the labor force, which fell sharply in the early days of Covid pandemic, continues to recover. (Note that the work penalty is not as bad as it sounds, since Social Security recalculates your benefits when you reach full retirement age to account for any amounts you lost before that date because you claimed early, but still worked. After full retirement age, a Social Security recipient can earn an unlimited amount from employment without their benefits check being docked.)

Update: Another crucial dollar adjustment affecting retirees’ finances was released by the federal government late in the day: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the monthly Medicare Part B premium for most beneficiaries will rise in 2024 to $174.70, a $9.80 or 5.9% increase from the $164.90 premium this year. In 2023, the premium for Part B fell for the first time in more than a decade, dropping from $170.10 to $164.90 for those retirees who aren’t subject to a high income surcharge, after spurting 14.5% in 2022. (Part B covers doctor’s services, outpatient hospital services, durable medical equipment and certain other items. Most beneficiaries don’t pay a premium for Medicare Part A, which covers inpatient hospital care.)

As for those high income surcharges, CMS said, for 2024, they will kick in when modified adjusted gross income exceeds $103,000 for a single or $206,000 for a couple, up from $97,000 for singles and $194,000 for couples in 2023. The high income surcharges go up in steps. The lowest adjustment level will extend up to income of $129,000 for a single or $258,000 for a couple. Those in that group will pay total premiums of $244.60 a month per person in 2024, up from $230.80 in 2023. The top premium is levied at an income of $500,000 for a single or $750,000 for a couple. Those top earners will pay a stiff $590 per person a month in Part B premiums in 2024 (up from $560.50 this year), meaning a well-off retired couple would pay total Part B premiums of $14,160 in 2024.

You can see all the 2024 high income adjustments as well the new Medicare deductibles for 2024 here.

The open enrollment period for 2024 Medicare coverage begins on October 15th. During open enrollment, recipients can switch between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage, switch their Medicare Advantage plans, or switch the plans they use for outpatient drug coverage, known as Part D. CMS said last month that Part D premiums are expected to remain stable in 2024, with the average premium dropping 1.8% to around $55.50 a month. In addition, changes in drug coverage passed in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act will lower out-of-pocket drug costs for some beneficiaries, by, for example, cutting the cost of insulin and eliminating the copay for those with “catastrophic” drug costs above $8,000.

Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Part C plans, cover both Part B and Part D drugs, and may charge an additional amount over the regular Part B premium, though not all of them do. CMS projected last month that the additional Medicare Advantage premium will average $18.50 in 2024, up from$17.86 in 2023.

Part B premiums are rising for 2024 in part because of the cost of a newly approved drug, Leqembi, which in a phase 3 trial was found to slow the progression of memory loss and cognitive impairment in patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s and which Medicare has decided to cover. Since Leqembi is administered via infusion at hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, it is covered by Part B, not by Part D. (Both the 2022 premium increase and the 2023 cut were related in part to the FDA’s controversial 2021 approval of an earlier and also pricey Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm, which Medicare ended up covering only for the purpose of clinical trials.)


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