Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Correcting records

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Q. My wife is my beneficiary, and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service has her date of birth wrong. How do I get it corrected?

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Medicare Part B

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Q. I am a retired Postal Service worker under CSRS. My wife is covered under my Federal Employees Health Benefits plan. I will become eligible for Medicare in March. She will not be eligible for six more years. Should I get Medicare Part B for myself now even though I couldn’t adjust my FEHB plan for six more years?

A. As I’ve said many times before, the decision about whether to enroll in Medicare Part B is a personal one. Only you can decide what’s best for you.

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Avoiding WEP

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Q. I am 69 years old. I started my Social Security benefits on my own SS earnings record at my full retirement age (66) and continued working. I am going to retire in October. I thought I could change to auxiliary spouse benefits when I decided to retire to avoid the windfall elimination provision and have been informed that I can’t make this change since I would be technically entitled on my own SSN. I was a Federal Erroneous Retirement Coverage Corrections Act case as far as my CSRS retirement was figured. According to my estimate, I will be offset the full amount of my Social Security benefit rate at age 66.

A. Your CSRS annuity will only be offset by the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while a CSRS Offset employee. If you earned other Social Security credits outside of your CSRS Offset employment, the amount of that portion of your Social Security benefit won’t be affected.

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Social Security spousal benefits

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Q. I retired under CSRS after 31 years. My gross CSRS annuity is about $3,580 a month. I’ve worked for 15 years in the private sector. I now get about $800 a month from Social Security, and my wife gets about $700/month before deducting for Medicare. Would either of us qualify for spousal benefits from Social Security?

A. Because you are receiving an annuity from CSRS, a retirement system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, any Social Security spousal benefit to which you’d be entitled would be affected by the government pension offset. The GPO would reduce that benefit by $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity.

While your wife would be entitled to any spousal Social Security benefit based on your work record, she would only receive the larger of the two Social Security benefits, her own or yours.

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Social Security survivor benefit and the GPO

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Q: My wife passed away five years ago at age 54. She had many years of working and adding to Social Security. I am recently retired under the Civil Service Retirement System. I was told that I will not be able to receive any of my wife’s contributions to Social Security. Is that true? If so, will that law ever be changed?

A: Any Social Security survivor benefit you are entitled to based on your late wife’s work record will be impacted by the government pension offset. The GPO will reduce that benefit 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 have never gotten off the ground.

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Spousal benefits at age 66

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Q: I am 63 and under Federal Employees Retirement System as a 1998 FERS transfer. My wife is 65 and collecting Social Security as of age 62. When I turn 66, my full retirement age, am I allowed to collect a full spousal benefit of half of her monthly benefit without penalty? If this is possible, I could then delay taking my own benefit until age 70 and collect the maximum under my own earnings (less the Windfall Elimination Provision penalty) which is substantially more than my full benefit at age 66.

A: Here are the rules. As a spouse, you are entitled to half of the retired worker’s full Social Security benefit unless you begin collecting benefits before reaching full Social Security retirement age. The reduction in that case is proportional to the number of months you are under full retirement age. When you begin collecting your own Social Security benefit, the Social Security Administration will first pay your benefit; then, if your benefit as a spouse is higher than your retirement benefit, you’ll get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit. If your benefit is higher than the spouse benefit, you’ll only get that.

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