More than 69 million Social Security beneficiaries will receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of 1.6% starting with the December 2019 benefits, which are payable in January 2020. This COLA adjustment is less than the 2.8% increase last year (Social Security Administration Press Release and Fact Sheet, 10/10/19; https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/colafacts2019.pdf).
However, for many Social Security recipients, the net benefit of the 1.6% COLA will be reduced by an increase in Medicare Part B premiums. The basic Part B premium for 2020 is estimated to be $144.30, up from $135.50 in 2019 (an increase of over 6%). Because of the spread between the increase in Social Security benefits and Medicare premiums, millions of Social Security beneficiaries will be “held harmless”, meaning they will pay a slightly lower monthly premium to keep the increase in their Part B premium from exceeding the increase in their Social Security benefits.
Along with the 1.6% benefits COLA comes an increase in the maximum amount of earnings subject to the 6.2% Social Security tax. For 2020, earnings up to $137,700 are subject to the tax, up from $132,900 in 2019. This means that employees who earn wages of $137,700 or more in 2019 will have the maximum Social Security tax of $8,537.40(6.2% x $137,700) withheld from their wages; the employer pays the same amount as the employee.
Self-employed individuals will figure their 2020 self-employment tax (Schedule SE) by applying the Social Security tax rate of 12.4% (6.2% employer share plus 6.2% employee share) to their first $137,700 of net earnings, but this is after the net earnings are reduced by 7.65%.
All wages, regardless of amount, are subject to the 1.45% Medicare tax withholding rate, and on Schedule SE, all self-employment net earnings (after the 7.65% reduction) are subject to the 2.9% Medicare tax (employer and employee shares). The $137,700 ceiling applies only to Social Security tax, not Medicare. In addition, employees and self-employed individuals with earned income over $200,000, or $250,000 if married filing jointly ($125,000 if married filing separately), must pay Additional Medicare Tax of 0.9%.
Social Security earnings limit. For benefit recipients who are under age 66 for all of 2020, benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 of earnings over $18,240 (it was $17,640 in 2019). For recipients who attain age 66 during 2020, benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $3 of earnings over $48,600 (it was $46,920 in 2019), but only the earnings in months prior to the month of the 66th birthday are counted. There is no benefit reduction for earnings starting in the month that age 66 is reached. A more favorable rule generally applies if 2020 is the first year of receiving benefits. If it is, and if the recipient will not reach age 66 until after 2020, there generally will be no benefit reduction for any month in which 2020 earnings do not exceed $1,520, or 1⁄12 of the full-year limit of $18,240. If age 66 will be reached in 2019, there will be no benefit reduction for any month prior to the 66th birthday month in which earnings do not exceed $4,050, or 1⁄12 of $48,600. However, the favorable “first year” rule does not apply for a month in which the recipient is self-employed and devotes either more than 45 hours to the business or between 15–45 hours in a highly skilled occupation. Keep in mind that if benefits are reduced because of the earnings limits, they are added back to the benefits received after reaching full retirement age.