By Reg Jones
Q: My question deals with my wife’s Social Security survivor benefit upon my death. I am 70 years old and my wife is 68. Both of us started taking Social Security when we were 62. I receive $1,663 in gross Social Security payments a month, and my wife receives $136. I worked in private industry and retired. My wife worked for the Defense Department and retired under the Civil Service Retirement System, never paying into Social Security. My question is, with these figures, if I died today, what would my wife be entitled to?
A: Any Social Security spousal benefit to which she’d be entitled would be reduced by $2 for every $3 she receives in her CSRS annuity.
Q: I am a Civil Service Retirement System Offset retiree (15 years in offset) and turned 62 in October. I [was] scheduled to receive my first Social Security benefit Dec. 22. I have contacted the Office of Personnel Management on several occasions requesting to know how much my annuity will be offset, but no one seems to know. My annuity still has not changed. Is it normal for OPM to be late in changing (offsetting) annuities of CSRS Offset retirees? How will overpayments of my annuity be handled?
A: Because you aren’t due for your first Social Security benefit check until the end of December, it’s likely that OPM will make the reduction in your January annuity payment. While OPM doesn’t provide estimates of CSRS Offset reductions, you can get a good idea about what it will be by using the online calculator at www.FEDbens.us.
Q: I was hired after 1983 to a nonmilitary position. I left federal employment with a 40 percent Federal Employees Retirement System disability annuity. I was recently approved for Social Security disability. It is my understanding that per Federal Law 5 U.S.C. 8452(a)(2) that my monthly FERS disability check will be reduced by 60 percent of my Social Security disability benefit. That doesn’t seem fair. Isn’t there a bill pending in Congress that repeals this? Do you know which bill I should refer to when I contact my Congressman?
A: That’s the law and, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever introduced legislation to change it.
Q: After reading all the horror stories about the windfall elimination provision and Social Security demanding payback of erroneous payments, I’m writing to verify my Civil Service Retirement System Offset and WEP reductions. I have 22 years of CSRS service, from 1973 to 1995, put in 13-plus years of nonfederal work, and then was re-employed with the federal government as a CSRS Offset employee in 2008. I plan to retire at 62 with 27 years, 8 months of federal service, with about five years of that under CSRS offset.
My personnel office says that I am not subject to the government pension offset, but it can’t seem to explain whether I’m subject to WEP. They listed a Social Security deduction amount of $40 on my retirement estimate, but I’m still waiting to understand if this is a WEP deduction. I was under the impression that the WEP would cut my Social Security benefit in half. If the formula for CSRS Offset employees is time of CSRS Offset service multiplied by Social Security benefit amount divided by 40, then the reduction will not be so severe.
A: Anyone who is receiving an annuity, in whole or part, from a retirement system in which he didn’t pay Social Security taxes is subject to the windfall elimination provision if he has fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security. While application of the WEP doesn’t normally reduce the Social Security portion of the benefit due to those receiving a CSRS Offset annuity, in rare instances it might. For more information about the WEP and how it is applied, go to this Social Security Administration fact sheet.
Q: I retired at age 57 as a Civil Service Retirement System Offset employee. I’ve enjoyed a private industry position but have learned that at age 62, my CSRS annuity will be reduced. I can retire through the Social Security Administration to recoup the reduced amount, but will be subject to an earnings limit which wipes out the entire SSA pension. Am I missing something? Are offset retirees subject to the SSA earnings limits?
A: Yes, they are. The earnings test will reduce your Social Security benefit by $1 for every $2 you earn above the limit, which is $14,160 in 2010. In the year you reach full retirement age, the reduction will $1 for every $3 over a different limit, which is $37,680 in 2011. The limit no longer applies in the month in which you reach full retirement age.
Q: My spouse is a civil service employee and is planning to retire within the next eight months. He is 64 years old and will be 65 in March. He could have retired at age 55 but did not because of personal reasons. His health is beginning to fail him now, and he cannot continue to work in his current capacity.
He worked more than 10 years at other companies before joining the civil service. He can receive full retirement benefits from the Civil Service Retirement System, but he is also eligible for a very small Social Security check, they say. I work for the State Department and plan on retiring at age 62; I previously worked for a local government and took early retirement in 2006. My spouse also has an annuity on me so when he retires, he will receive his full amount less the annuity. Should he file for Social Security now, or should he wait and file for it at the same time he files for retirement, which will be three months before he actually retires?
I have paid into Social Security for more than 30 years, and I can receive my Social Security payment at 62. There is some new law that came out recently about windfall which we really do not understand. Can he apply under my Social Security when I retire for more benefits? If he does not, will it affect my benefits in any way or reduce his?
A: Because your husband will be receiving an annuity from CSRS, a retirement system into which he didn’t pay Social Security taxes, any Social Security benefit to which he might be entitled will be affected by the windfall elimination provision. The WEP reduces the Social Security benefit of anyone who has fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security. Also, if he were to still be working and applied for a Social Security benefit before reaching his full retirement age of 66, his Social Security benefit would be reduced by $1 for every $2 he received in his CSRS annuity that exceeded the earning limit. In 2010, the limit is $14,160. Finally, any Social Security spousal benefit to which he might be entitled based on your work record would be affected by the government pension offset. The GPO would reduce that benefit by $2 for every $3 he received in his CSRS annuity. What I’ve written so far applies to Social Security benefits: None of this will have any effect on his CSRS annuity. What he earned is what he’ll receive, minus the survivor annuity.
As for you, assuming that all your employment was covered by Social Security, you’ll be able to receive both your earned Social Security benefit and, if he were to die before you, a CSRS survivor annuity. On the other hand, if you will be receiving an annuity in whole or part from a retirement system in which you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, your Social Security benefit also would be subject to the WEP.
Q: I will be retiring in January with 31 years of federal service. I also have more than 40 quarters to qualify for Social Security. My wife will be applying for Social Security benefits when she turns 62 this January. When we retire, will she be able to collect her full Social Security benefit, and will I be able to collect my share of Social Security under the windfall elimination provision?
A: She will be able to collect her full earned Social Security benefit. When you apply for a Social Security benefit, it will, as you pointed out, be subject to the windfall elimination provision. Further, any Social Security spousal benefit to which you may be entitled will be affected by the government pension offset provision, which probably will reduce it to zero.
Q: I understand that because I am a Civil Service Retirement System retiree, if my spouse should die I cannot get any of his Social Security. At one time I heard there was a law Congress was trying to pass to reverse this. Can you please explain this to me and let me know if there is anything being done about this law?
A: Because you will be receiving an annuity from a retirement system in which you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, you will be subject to the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO will reduce any spousal Social Security benefit to which you may be entitled by $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity. While bills have been introduced in Congress to modify or eliminate the GPO, they haven’t gone anywhere.
Q: I am trying to help my dad find answers to a letter he received from the Social Security Administration which states that it is stopping his widower’s benefits after 13 years. He receives a government pension. He is given the option to appeal; does he have grounds, or is this a change in law that he must accept?
A: Because you haven’t given me much to go on, I’m going to have to guess that your father’s Social Security survivor benefit was affected by the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO reduces that benefit for anyone who is receiving an annuity from a retirement system in which he didn’t pay Social Security taxes, such as the Civil Service Retirement System. The reduction in the Social Security survivor benefit is $2 for every $3 the retiree receives in his annuity. For more information about the GPO, see the fact sheet on the Social Security Administration’s website.
Q: If I retire with 30 years of federal service under the Federal Employees Retirement System at my minimum retirement age of 56 and I go back to work outside of the federal government, will I lose my Social Security supplement?
A: If you exceed the Social Security earnings limit, your special retirement supplement will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn. In 2010, that limit is $14,160.
Q. The windfall elimination provision and government pension offset are so difficult to understand. Can you help? My husband will soon be retiring at age 62 after 21 years under FERS. I am 52, but hope to leave service ahead of retirement. I currently have the following:
* 52 quarters of substantial Social Security contributions, including three years under CSRS Offset.
* Three years under CSRS Offset (2007-2009).
* 12 years under FSPS (Pre-1983 Foreign Service Retirement system) (1982-1994).
* Seven years under an international employer where I did not pay Social Security (1994-1999; 2005-2007)
Can you help me determine what the impacts will be regarding my own pension and Social Security benefits, spousal benefits for me from my husband’s FERS and Social Security (he will elect to cover me under both, unless it provides no coverage), and spousal benefits for my husband under my government pension and/or Social Security should I predecease him.
I am planning to return to school, but given the difficult economy, want to understand the impacts on my longer-term retirement. Do I need five years in CSRS Offset to eliminate the GPO for spousal benefits from my husband’s Social Security? Will having 30 years of substantial Social Security earnings (with contributions in my post-PHD period) help? What will be the impact of the offset on my government pension? How do I calculate this amount?
A. The best source of information about the windfall elimination provision and the government pension offset is on the Social Security Administration’s Web site at www.ssa.gov/gpo-wep. Although they offer online calculators, a better way to figure out the effects of each is to use the user friendly software at www.FEDbens.us.
Q. I will soon be a CSRS retiree — no offset, no military service, just 30 years with the federal government. My wife has worked for many years in the private sector and is covered by Social security. If she dies before I do, will I receive her full Social Security or any of it?
A. Any Social Security survivor benefit to which you are entitled would be affected by the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO would reduce that benefit by $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity.
Q. I have a question about the CSRS system and the impact of my wife’s Social Security. I will be retiring in January 2011 with 40-plus years of federal government experience. I don’t have enough quarters to qualify for Social Security. My only Social Security quarters are from when I worked summer jobs back when I was in college before 1970. My wife will be applying for a reduced Social Security benefit when she turns 62 this July. Will her benefit be affected by my CSRS annuity or vice versa?
A. Neither her Social Security benefit nor your CSRS annuity will be affected. However, any Social Security spousal benefit to which you would be entitled will be affected by the government pension offset provision of law. It will reduce that benefit by $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity.
Q. My husband is retired from the Army and is now working as a FERS employee. Once he can retire at 62, does Social Security offset his military? I am medically retired under CSRS. Since I did not pay into Social Security, can I collect Social Security under my husband?
A. Any Social Security benefit to which he would be entitled will be in addition to his military retired pay. That benefit will be based on his total years of Social Security-covered service. If he meets the age and service requirement to retire under FERS, based solely on his FERS service, he will be able to receive that benefit, too. He does have the option of making a deposit to the civilian retirement fund and get credit for his active-duty service; however, at retirement he would have to waive his military retired pay.
Any spousal Social Security benefit to which you would be entitled will be subject to the government pension offset provision. The GPO reduces or eliminates the spousal Social Security benefit of anyone receiving an annuity from a retirement system where he or she didn’t pay Social Security taxes, such as CSRS. The reduction would be $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity.
Q. I have over 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security. My spouse has 20 years of substantial earnings under Social Security. She also falls under the windfall elimination provision (WEP) because she is an educator and will receive a pension. My benefits are such that if she accepts the spousal benefit, rather than her own, it will be higher than her regular payment. That would then be subject to WEP. But, since I have over 30 years of substantial earnings, should she be eligible for the full spousal benefit? If she had over 30 years she would receive all of her benefit so why not the full spousal benefit?
A. I think what you are saying is that you wife’s Social Security benefit will be affected by the windfall elimination provision because she will be receiving an annuity from a retirement system where she didn’t pay Social Security taxes. If I’m right, then her entitlement to a spousal benefit based on your work record won’t be affected by the WEP; instead it will be affected by the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO reduces — and often eliminates — the spousal benefit of someone who is receiving an annuity from a retirement system where he or she didn’t pay Social Security taxes. The reduction would be $2 for every $3 she receives in her annuity.
Q. I am retired under a combination of CSRS (14 years) and FERS (12 years). My CSRS annuity is $3,000 a month and my Social Security is $600 a month. If my spouse dies, can I get any part of his $1,600 monthly Social Security?
Q. I am a government DoD CSRS employee of 38 years and plan on working for another couple of years –- I want that 40 years with 80 percent of my salary as retirement. I turn 62 this September and have been told I can draw my ex’s Social Security starting Oct 1. We were married for 28 years. Is this true? Is there a limit on the amount of money I can draw while I am still employed? I know when I retire, it will offset my retirement (which I feel is unfair).
Q: I am retiring soon under the Federal Employees Retirement System and my spouse is already retired under the Civil Service Retirement System. Should I die before her, will she be able to collect unreduced Social Security survivor’s benefits?
A: No, she won’t. Her survivor benefit will be subject to the government pension offset provision of the law, which will reduce that benefit by $2 for every $3 she receives in her CSRS annuity.
Q: I am a 65-year-old active CSRS federal employee. My wife is 63 and receives Social Security benefits. Am I eligible for a Social Security spousal benefit while I am still employed and not receiving a CSRS annuity?
A: Yes, you are. However, when you retire, you will be subject to the government pension offset provision of law, which will reduce that spousal benefit by $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity. In most cases, the GPO eliminates the Social Security spousal benefit.