Social Security Benefits to Increase 2.8% with 2019 COLA Adjustment

While recipients will get a cost-of-living adjustment, workers will have more of their income subject to the Social Security tax.

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The Social Security Administration announced that benefits will increase by 2.8% in 2019. That is the largest cost-of-living adjustment since 2012.

The estimated average monthly Social Security benefit payable in January 2019 will increase from $1,422 in 2018 to $1,461. The average monthly benefit for a couple who are both receiving benefits will rise from $2,381 to $2,448. And the maximum Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at full retirement age will increase from $2,788 per month to $2,861.

Also, more of workers’ income will be subject to the Social Security tax in 2019. The Social Security tax will apply to the first $132,900 of earnings, up from $128,400 in 2018.

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The COLA is based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2017 through the third quarter of 2018. Rising gas prices during the third quarter of 2018 fueled a rise in the inflation rate, leading to a higher COLA than in recent years. The COLA was 2.0% in 2018, 0.3% in 2017, 0.0% in 2016, and 1.7% in 2015. You usually receive a notice in the mail in early December with your new benefit amount, but this year most Social Security beneficiaries will also be able to see their COLA notice online through their mySocialSecurity account. (You can sign up for the account at

If you have your Medicare premiums paid directly from your Social Security benefits, you’ll find out your new benefit amount after 2019 Medicare premiums are announced (usually in November). You’ll receive that information in the COLA notice that is mailed in December, and you can also find it at the mySocialSecurity Message Center.

The Social Security Administration also announced that it is raising the amount that retirement beneficiaries who are still working can earn in 2019 before seeing a temporary reduction in benefits. Workers who are younger than full retirement age (age 66 for people born in 1943 through 1954) will be able to earn up to $17,640 in 2019 – up from $17,040 in 2018 – before Social Security starts to withhold benefits. Social Security will withhold $1 in benefits for every $2 in earnings above that limit for workers receiving benefits before full retirement age.

The earnings limit for people turning 66 in 2019 will increase from $45,360 to $46,920. Social Security will withhold $1 from benefits for each $3 earned over that limit until the month the worker turns 66. There is no earnings test after workers reach full retirement age. And once they reach full retirement age, Social Security will adjust their benefits to account for the benefits that were withheld.

For more information about how the earnings test affects benefits, see Passing the Social Security Benefits Earnings Test.

For more information about the COLA and its history since 1975, see the Social Security Administration’s COLA page.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.