Ask Rusty – Nonagenarian war veteran asks about extra credit for his service

Dear Rusty: I’m turning 95 this year and am caretaker for my wife in our 70th year of marriage. I served before 1968 (1951-53) during the Korean War. How do the “special extra credits for military service” work for me? Is it retro-active? My wife, who only worked a short time, gets half of my Social Security so would it affect hers, too? Signed: Korean War Veteran

Rusty Gloor

Dear War Veteran: First, I want to express my gratitude for your war-time service to our country and I also applaud your 70 years of marriage. Thank you, and congratulations!

Regarding the “special extra credit” for military service, Social Security FICA taxes weren’t withheld from military pay prior to 1957 so you didn’t pay Social Security payroll taxes from your military earnings during the years you served. As a result, Social Security would have no record of your military earnings during those 1951-1953 service years. But when you claimed Social Security later in life they would have asked if you served in the military and given you “special extra credit” in the form of presumed earnings for your service years. They likely would have asked for a copy of your DD-214 and would have added $160 to your earnings record for each active-duty month during those 1951-1953 years.

Note they do not give you an extra amount of Social Security; rather, for benefit computation purposes, they reflect your earnings for those years a bit higher than are shown in your earnings record (which would likely show zero for your service years). For example, if you served 12 months active duty in 1952, when your Social Security benefit was calculated they would consider your 1952 earnings as $1,920 ($160 x 12), instead of the zero shown in your record because you didn’t actually pay FICA tax on your military pay. But whether those extra earnings credits would have any effect on your Social Security benefit is a separate item.

Assuming you had earnings from regular employment over your lifetime and paid into Social Security from those non-military earnings, you became eligible for Social Security benefits from earnings outside of your military service. If you worked and earned a decent salary for at least 35 years, then those special extra credits for your military service years would have no effect on your Social Security benefit. If you had less than 35 years of regular non-military employment, then those extra earnings added for your military service years counted and provided you with a slightly higher Social Security benefit when you claimed.

So, the bottom line is this: if, over your lifetime, you worked for at least 35 years paying into Social Security via FICA payroll or self-employment tax, then the “special extra credits” for your military service years had no effect on your Social Security benefit. But if you worked less than 35 years in which SS taxes were withheld from your earnings, then those “special extra credits for military service” contributed to and increased your Social Security benefit when you claimed. However, even if you worked for more than 35 years outside of the military and the extra credits didn’t matter for your Social Security benefit, your service to our country did, indeed, matter a great deal. From one veteran to another, thank you again for your service to our country.