Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

CSRS survivor benefits and wife, unmarried daughter

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Q. I retired from federal service under CSRS in 2004 with full survivor benefits provided to my spouse following my death. Will my spouse still be able to receive her Social Security benefits at their full value? If my spouse passes on before I do, are there Social Security survivor benefits that pass on to me or our unmarried daughter, who is dependent on us for support?

A. Your spouse would be able to continue receiving her earned Social Security benefit. If she were to die before you, any spousal or survivor Social Security benefit you would otherwise be entitled to would be affected by the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO would reduce any such benefit by $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity. Whether your daughter would be entitled to any Social Security children’s benefit would depend on whether she is either unmarried and under 18 (19 if a full-time secondary school student) or was severely disabled before age 22 and remains disabled.

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Survivor benefits in CSRS

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Q. My husband passed away in 2005. He worked for the post office. I receive CSRS survivor benefits. I have legal permanent custody of my 4-year-old grandson. Is he entitled to survivor benefits as my dependent?

A. No. Dependents acquired by a survivor after an employee or retiree dies aren’t eligible for survivor benefits.

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CSRS survivor benefit and Social Security

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Q. I am a retired federal employee under CSRS. My wife has worked the requisite number of years under Social Security to qualify her to receive Social Security benefits.

If I pass on and she begins to receive survivor benefits from my CSRS pension, will she still be able to apply for and receive Social Security benefits based on her own work? If she does receive Social Security benefits, will there be reductions because of her receiving survivor benefits from CSRS?

A. Nothing will alter her entitlement to receive an unreduced Social Security benefit based on her own work record.

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Remarriage, pension and retirement

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Q. My 93-year-old father has been retired from the federal government since he was 62. My mother passed away 22 years ago. He wants to marry a very young woman so she can get his pension. I can’t imagine the government would allow this. He is adamant that she will receive his pension if he marries her.

A. Yes, he can elect a survivor annuity for a new wife. However, he needs to keep two things in mind. First, she wouldn’t be entitled to anything unless the marriage lasted for nine months before he died.

Second, the cost of such an election might be prohibitive. To pay for it, there would be two reductions in his annuity. One would be the standard deduction to provide the survivor benefit — a 10 percent reduction if he wanted to provide a full survivor annuity. The other would be a permanent actuarial reduction to pay the survivor benefit deposit. The deposit equals the difference between the new annuity rate and the annuity paid to him for each month since he retired, plus 6 percent interest. The reduction would be determined by the amount he owes divided by his age on the date his annuity is reduced to provide the survivor benefit. We’re talking big money here.

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CSRS Offset, survivor benefit and Social Security

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Q. My husband will retire in about three years under CSRS Offset. We will both be 65. Will the fact that we are opting for the full survivor benefit affect my Social Security benefits?

A. No, it will have no effect on your earned Social Security benefit.

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Survivor benefits, state retirement and Social Security

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Q. My husband recently retired as a civilian working on a military base as a federal employee. Since I will have my own retirement (state of Virginia and Social Security), we opted for only a 20 percent survivor benefit for me should he die. Did we make a mistake? Since I can draw my own state retirement and Social Security, will this render me ineligible to draw his federal retirement should he die, since I will be drawing my own retirement? Are we wasting money by having that spousal benefit deduction taken from his check?

A. I don’t know if 20 percent was the right amount. What I do know is that you’ll be able to receive it, your own annuity and your Social Security benefit.

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CSRS and spousal survivor benefit from Social Security

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Q. I am 58 and will be retiring from the Defense Logistics Agency soon with 30 years of CSRS service. Before my government service, I earned 34 Social Security credits. I plan to work part time after CSRS retirement to earn the six credits needed for a small (windfall elimination provision) SSA pension. While the money won’t be much, is it important to get 40 Social Security credits to become eligible for a spousal survivor benefit from my wife’s SSA benefits?

A. Because you’ll be receiving an annuity from CSRS, a retirement system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, any Social Security spousal or survivor benefit will be affected by the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO would reduce those benefits by $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity.

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Changing survivor benefits decisions

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Q. My husband and I are civil service retirees. We elected not to provide survivor benefits to each other upon retirement several years ago. Is this irrevocable? I recently read something about the possibility of changing this election if the government declared an open season. I’ve never heard of that occurring for survivor benefits.

If this is true, does such an open season happen often? If could reverse our decisions, what type of lump sum or penalty would we incur to elect to provide the benefits?

A. There is no such thing as an open season for survivor benefits. The choice you made at retirement to not provide survivor benefits can’t be reversed.

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Survivor benefit, FEHB

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Q. If an employee retires and elects an insurable interest for his spouse, will that payment be a monthly payment or a lump-sum payment? Also will the spouse be able to continue in FEHB if the annuitant had self and family coverage?

A. First things first. You are required by law to provide a full survivor benefit to your spouse unless 1) there is a court order assigning that benefit to a former spouse or 2) she agrees in writing to a lesser amount or none at all. The insurable interest annuity is designed to provide a benefit to someone dependent on you but not otherwise entitled to a survivor annuity. It’s my understanding that if your spouse is covered under an FEHB self and family option and entitled to an annuity, she will be eligible to continue that coverage when you die. To be sure, check with your personnel office.

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Survivor benefit calculations

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Q. My husband is a CSRS employee who will retire in two years. I am a FERS employee who will retire in three years. My question is this: I have always paid into Social Security, and the projected survivor benefit is $2,298. If my husband is a CSRS retiree, would he see any of that survivor benefit if I were to die before he did? If so, how would I calculate that to get a feel for what he could expect?

A. If you were to die before your husband, any Social Security survivor benefit to which he’d be entitled would be affected by the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO would reduce that survivor benefit by $2 for every $3 he received in his CSRS annuity. You’ll find a GPO calculator at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/gpo-calc.htm.

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Pension for federal employee’s spouse

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Q. My husband is drawing his pension from the federal government. At what age can I start drawing my portion of his pension?

A. You aren’t entitled to anything while he is alive. If he elected a survivor benefit for you, then you’d be entitled to that if he died before you.

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Retirement benefits and marriage

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Q. I am a retired civil servant receiving an annuity. I also receive survivor benefits from my late husband, also a civil servant. I am 72 and may marry a gentleman who is retired Navy and civil servant. Would either of us lose our benefits? He is the same age as I.

A. No.

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Survivor annuity and regular annuity reduction

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Q. I recently attended a retirement seminar where the presenter stated that the cost of the survivor benefit does not go up over time. If I opt for a full survivor benefit and it costs $350 a month when I retire in two months, that will be the cost one year, five years, 20 years from now. If it’s true, great. True?

A. Either your presenter wasn’t clear or you misunderstood what was being said. There’s a one-time reduction in you annuity to pay for the survivor annuity. For example, if your unreduced FERS annuity was $50,000 and you elected a full survivor annuity, as required by law, your new annuity base would be $45,000. In effect, you would be paying for the survivor annuity through a permanent reduction in your own annuity.

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Health care coverage

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Q. I retired from the federal government at age 55 with survivor benefits for my husband, who is eight years younger than I am. I will be eligible for Medicare on Dec. 1.  If I opt for the Medicare parts A and B, can I reduce the costs of Blue Cross/Blue Shield by going from family plan, which covers both of us, to the single plan for him only?

A. Not unless he is a federal employee or retiree and, as such, eligible to enroll on his own.

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Marriage and benefits changes

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Q. I am a CSRS employee with 30 years of service. If I marry a retired federal employee, will this reduce my monthly retirement benefits? Also, in the event of death, are we entitled to each other’s benefits?

A. Marrying either a federal employee or retiree would not affect your retirement annuity. Whether you would be eligible for each other’s survivor benefit would depend entirely on whether you elected to provide such a benefit and accepted the reduction in your own annuity to pay for it.

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CSRS Offset lump-sum payment in lieu of monthly annuity

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Q. Can a CSRS Offset retiree cash in or buy out his/her monthly annuity being received for a lump-sum payment, health and survivor benefits notwithstanding?

A. No.

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CSRS and Social Security survivor benefits

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Q. My wife retired from the USPS in 2003 under CSRS. Upon my death, will she receive the full Social Security survivor amount, or will that amount potentially reduce her USPS pension? Also will any retirement benefits from my private company plan affect her retirement pension?

A. Because she is receiving an annuity from a retirement system where she didn’t pay Social Security taxes, any Social Security survivor benefit to which she is entitled would be affected by the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO would reduce that Social Security survivor benefit by $2 for every $3 she receives in her CSRS annuity. Receiving a survivor annuity from your private-sector plan would not affect her CSRS annuity.

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CSRS survivor annuity and Social Security

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Q. My husband retired from the federal government in 2004 at age 55 with 33 years of service under CSRS. He passed away in 2007 and I started receiving his pension survivor benefits. He did not pay into Social Security long enough to receive those benefits. I am now 62 and applied for Social Security on my earnings since I do have enough quarters. Since I am receiving his federal government pension survivor benefits under CSRS, am I entitled to receive my own Social Security benefits since I had enough credits? My Social Security benefit amount is $277 per month.

The bottom line is that the pension is based on his earnings and the Social Security is based on my earnings. Would my Social Security benefit be affected by either the Government Pension Offset or the Windfall Elimination Provision? I answered every question in the Social Security application honestly and to the best of my knowledge, and they told me the amount I would receive.

A. Receiving a CSRS survivor annuity will not affect your entitlement to your own earned Social Security benefit.

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Survivor Benefit Plan

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Q. Is it possible to retain my Defense Department Survivor Benefit Plan and use it as the basis for continued Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage for my wife and dependent child if I were to pass away. I plan on retiring under FERS this year. I’d rather not take the FERS SBP as it is more expensive. I am retired military with 20 years and bought back the time?

A. No, it isn’t.

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CSRS Offset and Social Security payments

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Q. I am a soon-to-be 68-year-old CSRS Offset employee returning to work in 1988. I did not pay back the retirement contributions I took out when I left government service in 1980 and realize my CSRS annuity will be reduced to pay this back. I plan on working several more years.

Is there any disadvantage or effect on my total retirement annuity (combination of CSRS and Social Security) if I start receiving Social Security payments now?

I plan on electing full survivor benefits for my wife, a FERS government employee 15 years younger. Is there any effect on the survivor benefit/annuity?

Is there any reason I should not start collecting Social Security now?

A. Even though you are still employed, because you have already reached your full Social Security retirement age, you can apply now and receive an unreduced Social Security benefit. Once you retire, your CSRS annuity will be offset by the amount of Social Security benefits you earned while covered by CSRS Offset. As you noted, your CSRS annuity will also be reduced to account for the fact that you took a refund of your retirement contributions and didn’t redeposit it. As a result, your annuity will be actuarially reduced based on the amount you owe, plus accrued interest.

If you elect a full survivor annuity for your spouse, your annuity will be reduced by approximately 10 percent to pay for that benefit. If, with her approval in writing, you elect a lesser amount, the reduction will be smaller.

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