Substantial earnings: Net or gross?


Q. I am retired with 30 years of service. I also have 22 years of substantial earnings in Social Security. I am working as a consultant and plan to until I get to 30 years of substantial earnings.

2013 substantial earnings are $20,175 and above. I earned about $24,000. That is my gross amount. Are substantial earnings based on my gross amount or my net amount (after I deduct my expenses)?

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Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to


  1. I am 67 yrs old and I am still working. Not retired.
    I have worked for over 40 yrs but as of 12/31/16 I have only 29 yrs of substantial earnings. If I retire now the 85% windfall rule will apply. I want to stay on working until I complete 30 yrs of substantial earnings.
    Like I said I am still working as of 1/2017 hoping to complete the required 30 yrs sub. Earnings so the 90% formula can be used.
    Do I have to work all of 2017 to complete the 30 yrs of substantial earnings or only up to the point I earn enough to cover the substantial earnings amount of 2017? What is the substantial earnings for 2017? Thank you

    • No, you don’t have to work an entire year to meet the substantial earnings amount for 2017. Since the Social Security Administration hasn’t yet posted the figure for 2017, all I can give you is the one for 2015-2016: $22,050.

      • So as long as I earned the required $ amount
        Substantial earnings for 2017 it will count as one year of substantial earnings total of 29 + 1=30 yrs of substantial earnings. So the 90% formula will be used and no windfall rule will apply to my case. Thank you

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