By Reg Jones
Q. I’m retiring this year with 33 years of service under CSRS. I’ve earned enough credits (however do not have 30 continuous years of Social Security) to be eligible for Social Security. Will the WEP affect what I would get from Social Security, and reduce my retirement annuity? Or will I be able to collect my full retirement annuity but just have a reduced Social Security check?
Q. I will be 62 on Sept. 3 and will still be CSRS for another year or so. Can I collect 100 percent of my Social Security amount for age 62 at that time?
Q. I am a CSRS employee who started with the Postal Service in 1981. However, I worked in a supermarket before the USPS and worked for the union for the past six years. For both of those other jobs, I have paid and still am paying Social Security. I have heard the expression of “having enough quarters” for Social Security retirement. What does that mean, and how many quarters are needed?
Q. I retired under CSRS after 26 years of service. I worked for six years before my federal service and have been working and paying Social Security for the past nine years. If I put in 20 years under Social Security, will I still be affected by the windfall elimination provision?
Q. Is every CSRS employee considered an offset? I retired in 2012, started in 1977, and now, at 62, applied for my Social Security. I was informed that the CSRS annuity reduced my very small Social Security check to $100. Now, will the Office of Personnel Management reduce my annuity by that 100?
A. Pure CSRS retirees like you are subject to the windfall elimination provision. The WEP reduces the Social Security benefit of anyone who receives an annuity from a retirement system where he didn’t pay Social Security taxes and has fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security. The WEP will have no effect on your CSRS annuity.
Q. I was in CSRS for nine years (1965-1974) before having a 15-year break in service. When I returned to work for the government (1989), I was placed in CSRS Offset until my retirement in January 2013.
I am receiving Social Security benefits, as well as my reduced CSRS Offset government pension. During one of my calls to Social Security regarding my benefits, I was told that I have paid into Social Security for 29 years and that, if I could get one more years earnings paid into Social Security, that the amount of the CSRS Offset reduction would not apply. My understanding was that I would then be able to collect my full government pension, as well as my Social Security annuity.
In a follow-up call to Social Security, I was told that this reference applied only to my Social Security annuity.
I am trying to determine if it would be beneficial for me to return to work to reach the 30-year requirement. Can you confirm which statement is correct?
December 16th, 2013 | Benefits Creditable service: CSRS Creditable service: FERS CSRS annuity computation FERS annuity computation RETIREMENT SOCIAL SECURITY substantial earnings Windfall elimination provision
Q. In the Dec. 2 article titled “Don’t let these 5 mistakes disrupt your plans,” in mistake number 4, you wrote “If you are covered by CSRS (or FERS and will have a CSRS component in your annuity) and will also be eligible for a Social Security benefit, you’ll be subject to the windfall elimination provision. The WEP reduces the Social Security benefit of anyone receiving an annuity — in whole or part — from a retirement system where he didn’t pay Social Security taxes and has fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security.”
A co-worker said they just attended their first retirement seminar, and they may be Federal Erroneous Retirement Coverage Corrections Act eligible (they were in CSRS and placed into FERS without their consent around 1987). They are going to contact our personnel office and have it confirmed that they should be in CSRS. From the article item #4, I am wondering if the following is correct:
If you have more than 30 years of Social Security earnings and get your FERS status changed to CSRS, which would cease you being taxed for Social Security, once you retire and were 62 years old, would you be eligible for a Social Security benefit and not be subjected to the windfall elimination provision?
Q. I retired under CSRS at age 57, 1½ years ago, with 32 years service. Before I worked for the federal government, I had other jobs that I paid Social Security payments. I am now told that since I retired under CSRS, I can’t collect my Social Security when I reach the correct age. Why can’t I collect that money since it was paid in before I worked for the feds? Also, If I can’t collect Social Security, where does all that money go that I paid in. Shouldn’t I get that back?
Also, if I get a part-time job away from the government, would I have to pay Social Security taxes? If so, why?
December 11th, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits Creditable service: CSRS Creditable service: FERS CSRS annuity computation DOWNSIZING FERS annuity computation PAY RETIREMENT Retirement date service computation date SOCIAL SECURITY Special retirement supplement spouse benefits SURVIVOR BENEFITS VERA VSIP Windfall elimination provision
Q. I am considering requesting a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority/Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay and being off the rolls by March 31. My service computation date is Feb. 28, 1982 (CSRS and FERS). On Feb. 28, 2014, I will have 32 years of combined service (CSRS and FERS). On April 11, 2014, I will be 58 years old.
I transferred to FERS on March 30, 1994. Therefore, I will have 20 years under FERS on March 30, 2014.
I previously withdrew all of my retirement funds from CSRS, and never paid them back. I understand that although I did not repay my refund, the period of service will count toward length of service, but no annuity. Is this correct?
I had received a FERS benefit report that reflects CSRS service credit as 11 years, seven months and six days, but because some of that time was nonpaid deposit or redeposit, I will only receive eight years, 11 months and 27 days of CSRS service credit. My unpaid CSRS deposit is $627, and my CSRS redeposit is $30,607. Therefore, I am unable to pay all of this back prior to my retirement — and will have to pay a penalty, I am sure.
Since all of my annuity will be coming from FERS, will I be affected by the windfall elimination provision?
I have no survivor benefit, spouse deceased, which should make me eligible for Social Security widow’s benefit at age 60. How will this affect my special retirement supplement? Will I have to contact the Office of Personnel Management and report this change, or will they be notified by Social Security that I have filed?
Is the special retirement supplement equal to the Social Security benefits I will draw at age 62, or is it less?
Q. I worked for 35 years with the Postal Service. I am 64 years old. My 40 quarters are fully paid up from work prior to the USPS job and being a military reservist and active duty. I understand the reduction that the windfall elimination provision and government pension offset takes. After my federal retirement, however, I have continued working. I have not applied for Social Security yet. I still work, landing a job at a military base as a New York state employee. So I have now been making “substantial” payments into Social Security ($100 per pay period). I am in my 12th year with New York state. I have been receiving Social Security statements these past 12 years, and every year, my “estimated” Social Security payment has increased, from $368 to the current $1,000 per month. Is this Social Security “estimated payout” including the WEP and GPO legislative thievery? I have paid thousands into Social Security but am very concerned that I will never get back what I have paid into it.
December 10th, 2013 | annuity reduction Creditable service: CSRS CSRS annuity computation CSRS Offset Government pension offset High-3 Military service deposits PAY RETIREMENT SOCIAL SECURITY substantial earnings SURVIVOR BENEFITS Windfall elimination provision
Q. I worked in CSRS from 1972 to 1988 and returned in May 1990 as a CSRS Offset. I was a reservist on active duty from March 1991 to March 1992 during Desert Storm. I also have been drawing Social Security since May 2006. My husband passed away in September 2008, and I am receiving the survivor benefit. I want to retire this year, and I have no idea what I will receive. I think my total Social Security is about 27 or 28 years for paying.
December 9th, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits Creditable service: CSRS CSRS annuity computation Government pension offset PAY SOCIAL SECURITY spouse benefits substantial earnings taxes Windfall elimination provision
Q. Will I be able to draw Social Security if my husband is retired military and retired CSRS? I have work for more than 30 years paying Social Security tax and have been told I can’t draw. Will my husband be able to draw because he has paid Social Security tax as a self-employed contractor?
Q. I am a CSRS Offset retiree. I attended more than one pre-retirement seminar and was given examples of my retirement situation, along with reassurances that my retirement would closely follow the examples and that I was very fortunate to be CSRS Offset, and would be very happy.
I was told to check with Social Security to find out about my offset. Neither the Office of Personnel Management nor Social Security could know the exact amounts until I retired.
Following my retirement, everything, except Social Security, was in disorder for six months. OPM explained that they had to check with SS about the calculation of my offset, and that took some time. When I contacted SS, they said there was no offset for me because of my lengthy employment history and more than 30 years of SS payments (and I paid both CSRS and SS amounts since 1983).
The bottom line is, at the pre-retirement seminar, I was shown and walked through one method for calculating the offset and told that there was also another and that the one with the lowest amount would be used to determine my offset. My eventual monthly OPM payments were about $1,000 a month less than those demonstrated in the example based on all that was known about my salary and SS payment history at the pre-retirement seminar. I realize that the pre-retirement amount could be off a little, but $1,000/month is a lot. Each time I tried to sort this out, I was told by SS that there was no offset, and I was told by OPM that they used the offset given to them by SS.
To this date, this matter has never been satisfactorily explained and resolved. SS even sent me a letter stating that I was not subject to any offset, and OPM continues to state that my pension offset was based on the information supplied to them by SS. Can you supply me with someone to walk me through the calculations that were apparently so far from real?
Q. I worked for the government (Department of Defense Dependents Schools) as a teacher overseas in Germany from January 1969 to June 1984. I am receiving a government pension (my retirement) of $629 per month.
I was told at the Social Security office that my Social Security benefits would be reduced by two-thirds because I worked for the government. Until 1984, DoDDS employees were not allowed to pay into Social Security. I have paid into Social Security by working at other teaching positions and other types of work.
Is what the Social Security administrator said correct? Am I penalized because I worked for the government, and is my pension considered part of my Social Security, and after 15 years, am I to get just $800 a month (including Social Security) to live on for the rest of my life?
Q. I am a 51-year-old with 32 years of service under CSRS. I am eligible to retire in 2016 when I reach age 55. I have also worked and paid into Social Security for about the same number of years. Am I eligible to receive both Social Security and my civil service retirement pension?
I would also like to know how a buyout works. If one is offered before I reach age 55, what is the payout, and will I receive my current benefits such as life and health insurance coverage?
Q. I retired in 2009 with 37½ years under CSRS. I had no break in service. I started in 1973. I worked part time for a period while a federal employee and I had a job (short time) before federal employment.
After retirement, I went to work full time (private) and have been paying into Social Security. I got a statement from Social Security last year that shows that if I keep working at my current salary, I will collect about $680 a month at age 62 or about $1,200 a month at age 66.
I don’t believe I fall into the offset category but would like to know how/if I will be affected in both my CSRS monthly pension and Social Security.
November 21st, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits Creditable service: CSRS CSRS annuity computation CSRS Offset EMPLOYMENT Government pension offset PAY Re-employment RETIREMENT SOCIAL SECURITY spouse benefits SURVIVOR BENEFITS Windfall elimination provision
Q. I am a CSRS Offset employee. I had seven years and 10 months of CSRS service when I left and took my funds out. I returned as CSRS Offset after a 15-month break, did not make a redeposit and now have an additional 26 years of service.
I am looking at retiring in 4½ years at age 60. In addition, I am divorced (married 28 years and one month, not remarried). My ex-husband has always made substantially more. Based on the scenario stated, I am of the opinion that:
1. The windfall elimination provision will not apply since I will have 30½ years of paying into Social Security.
2. The government pension offset does not apply since I am CSRS Offset, and
3. I can collect Social Security based upon my spouse’s earnings since his income was substantially more than mine.
I need to know whether these assumptions are correct, and whether there are any other “offsets” as it will make the difference on whether or not I can afford to retire or need to keep working until full (Social Security) retirement age.
November 18th, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits CSRS annuity computation FEHBP FERS annuity computation Government pension offset HEALTH INSURANCE LIFE INSURANCE Military service deposits PAY RETIREMENT Retirement date SOCIAL SECURITY substantial earnings Tricare Windfall elimination provision
It’s easy to make mistakes when you are planning to retire. Some of the biggest mistakes apply to all employees; a few apply only to CSRS or FERS retirees. All can be costly. Here they are and what you can do to avoid them:
Retiring on the spur of the moment. It can be disastrous, for two reasons. First, if you hand in your retirement application at the last minute, it may contain errors that delay processing or even cause it to be rejected. Second, decisions made in haste often come back to bite you. Once committed to a course of action, it’s hard to undo it if you change your mind. If you do change your mind before you actually retire, you won’t be able to withdraw your application if your job has been abolished or it’s been offered to someone else. If you’ve already retired and want to cancel your retirement, your agency has no obligation to bring you back on board.
Confusing a salesperson with an adviser. The two are not the same. Actually, they’re opposites. One is paid to convince you to buy what they have to sell; the other is paid a fee to conduct analysis and provide you with decision support. One is your ally. The other is your adversary. Why would you trust an adversary for advice? Be skeptical of any source of “advice” that might be influenced by a conflict of interest. This is single mistake probably costs the American public more than any other when it comes to financial decision making.
Losing your health or life insurance. Make sure you are enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits or Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance programs for the five consecutive years before you retire. If you aren’t, with few exceptions, you won’t be able to carry that coverage into retirement. Here are the exceptions: you are covered by your spouse’s FEHB policy; you have been covered by Tricare of CHAMPVA, enroll in the FEHB program before retiring and the total equals five years; you enrolled in the FEHB at your first opportunity and retire in less than five years; or you accept an early retirement offer and were enrolled before the latest offer of early retirement was made by your agency.
Before you retire, check with your personnel office to be sure that you’ve met either the five-year rule or one of its exceptions.
Not getting credit for active-duty service in the military. If you served on active duty in the military, you can get credit for that time in determining your years of civilian service and have it used in the computation of your annuity. If you are a FERS employee, you’ll have to make a deposit to get credit for that time. If you are a CSRS employee, the rules differ depending on when you were first hired. If it was before Oct. 1, 1982, you will only have to make a deposit if you retire and are eligible for a Social Security benefit at age 62 (or when you retire, if it’s after age 62). If you were hired on or after that date, you’ll get credit for that time only if you make a deposit for that service. Whether you are a CSRS or FERS employee, if you’ll be eligible for or receiving military retired pay, in most cases you’ll have to waive that pay when you retire from your civilian job. You won’t have to do that if you are eligible for or receiving reserve retired pay.
Check with your personnel office to make sure that any active-duty service is recorded in your Official Personnel Folder and find out if a deposit will be required to get credit for that time.
Getting caught by “Catch-62.” If you are a CSRS employee who served on active duty in the armed forces after Dec. 31, 1956, and haven’t made a deposit for that time, you could be in for a rude awakening. If you retire and are eligible for a Social Security benefit at age 62 (or when you retire if it’s after age 62), your annuity will be reduced by 2 percent for each of those years of military service for which you haven’t made a deposit.
Determine whether you’ll be eligible for a Social Security benefit at either of those points in time. If you will, you may want to make a deposit for that time. If you won’t, don’t waste your money. Your CSRS annuity won’t be affected.
Rolling over Thrift Savings Plan assets. This mistake is usually caused by either trusting the wrong source for advice or failing to think “outside the box” a little when it comes to planning for your cash flow needs. Financial salespeople generally have to gain custody of your assets in order to be paid their commissions or fees, so naturally, their advice always includes rolling over any significant TSP sums into an IRA or other investment vehicle with higher costs. This is a formula for diminished investment performance. If the reason for leaving the TSP isn’t to enrich a financial salesperson, it’s often to gain more freedom in withdrawing TSP assets. While this is sometimes a valid reason to leave, it can often be dealt with through a combination of a lump-sum withdrawal or a series of fixed monthly distributions that will create and maintain a slush fund outside the TSP that is sufficient to meet your cash flow needs.
Focusing on wealth instead of cash flow. Speaking of cash flow, this mistake is propagated by financial professionals and journalists all the time. Much of what you’ll read and hear from financial and investment experts is aimed at maximizing economic wealth — basically your net worth. The mistake is in assuming this is your retirement goal. It’s probably not. And managing to this goal can cause serious problems for you in retirement. Paying off a fixed-rate, low-interest-rate mortgage is an example. It is often proposed that saving the interest over 10, 20 or 30 years will dramatically increase your net worth. While the validity of this proposal will vary from case to case, and is certainly debatable, it also completely misses the point that your retirement standard of living is not dependent upon your net worth but rather on your ability to generate cash flow. Having massive amounts of equity in a piece of real estate is of little use to you in making a car payment or paying for a cruise if you can’t sell the property or borrow against the equity on attractive terms.
Getting hit by the windfall elimination provision. If you are a CSRS retiree who will be eligible for a Social Security benefit, it may be reduced by the windfall elimination provision. That will happen if you have fewer than 30 years of “substantial earnings” under Social Security. The difference between the amount needed to earn four credits under Social Security and the amount considered to be substantial earnings is significant. In 2013, you would only need to earn $4,640 to get four credits; however, you would have to earn $21,075 for it to be considered substantial. (Since the Social Security Administration doesn’t know which retirement system you are in, if you are a CSRS employee, any estimate of future Social Security benefits they give you will very likely be wrong, often very wrong.)
If you’ll be affected by the WEP, know in advance how much less your Social Security benefit will be. You can get started by reading the Social Security Administration’s publication at ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf.
Getting hit by the government pension offset. If you will be receiving a CSRS annuity, any spousal Social Security benefit you may be entitled to will be reduced or eliminated by the government pension offset. The GPO will reduce those Social Security benefits by $2 for every $3 you get in your CSRS annuity.
If you’ll be affected by the GPO, you need to find out how great the impact will be. That’s because it isn’t uncommon for the GPO to wipe out those benefits. You can learn more at ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf.
Relying on emotion instead of reason. This mistake is so common, it’s the norm. It also has the potential to cause disaster. There have been books written about this mistake and how to avoid it, yet the behavior continues to be rampant. If you’re going to get the most of what you want from what you have, you need to realize that markets have evolved to take advantage of your fear and greed, which are amazingly predictable, and turn them against you. The investment markets aren’t fair; they’re like poker games, and trust me, you’re not the best player in the game. If you want to survive and, better yet, enjoy the game, you need to rely on a strategy that acknowledges the odds you face, accepts them and uses reason to turn them to your favor.
Failing to account for inflation. Inflation is a pervasive threat to any retirement plan. Not so much inflation in general, but differential rates of inflation among the various incomes and outflows that affect your plan. Your expenses will inflate, over time, at varying rates, while your income may or may not keep pace with that inflation. CSRS annuity and Social Security income increase with the Consumer Price Index (for now), FERS annuity income increases less than the rate of inflation, and many other pension and annuity income streams either don’t increase at all or increase at a fixed rate. Differences in these inflation rates can have a profound impact on your financial picture in retirement and failing to properly account and plan for this impact can leave you without the resources you’ll need to live the life you’ve been expecting years, or decades, down the road.
November 13th, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits Creditable service: CSRS CSRS Offset Earnings test EMPLOYMENT High-3 PAY Postal Service RETIREMENT SOCIAL SECURITY substantial earnings Windfall elimination provision
Q. I will be 63 this month. I worked at the Postal Service from 1969 to 1981 as a letter carrier. I took the CSRS money out when I left in 1981. I worked in the private sector from 1981 to 1989. I came back to USPS in 1989, paid back the CSRS money and am now in CSRS offset.
I have about 37 years in USPS and plan to work here another three years. Where can I find some info to help me decide whether to retire from USPS now and work in private sector or keep working at USPS?
A. The only info I can give you is about what your benefits would be if you retired now. With 37 years of service, your CSRS annuity would be 70.25 percent of your high-3. However, because you are a CSRS Offset employee who would be retiring at or after age 62, your CSRS annuity would be automatically reduced by the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while a CSRS Offset employee. The amount you received would be the same; it would just come from two different places, the Office of Personnel Management and the Social Security Administration. You could, if you wished, apply for a Social Security benefit at that time, which would give you credit for all of your Social Security-covered employed. Because you would have over 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security, you wouldn’t be subject to the windfall elimination provision.
Q. Regarding the recent Supreme Court case that determined that the Affordable Care Act penalty for not having health insurance was a tax. May the reduction in a Social Security retirement benefit due to the application of the windfall elimination provision penalty be characterized as a tax?