Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty – How does my husband’s federal pension affect benefits?

Published 7:42 am Friday, November 8, 2019

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor, Association of Mature American Citizens 

Dear Rusty: My husband retired at his full retirement age of 66. He qualified for Social Security but also qualified for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Being so, he falls under the Windfall Offset Provision, and subsequently had his Social Security benefit reduced from around $900 to $450. His full CSRS benefit is $3,400. I have not claimed my Social Security benefit, but I expect it to be around $2000 at my full retirement age of 66 in November. At my full retirement age could I collect half of his benefit and let mine grow until age 70? Or upon filing, am I forced to take my full benefit instead? If I can take half of his benefit, would it be half of his full benefit or half of the reduced benefit? Also, upon claiming my benefit, would my husband be entitled to claim half, and thus increase what he is currently receiving on his own benefit? In addition, upon my death, would my husband qualify for my full Social Security benefit or is he subject to offset by the Windfall Offset or Government Pension Offset? Signed: Confused About SS

Dear Confused: Because of your husband’s CSRS pension, his own Social Security benefit is reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), and any spousal benefit he may be entitled to will be affected by the Government Pension Offset (GPO). Both WEP and GPO are provisions which affect anyone with a pension from employment which did not participate in the Social Security program.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

GPO is the more severe of these two provisions, because it reduces any spousal (or survivor) benefit your husband might be entitled to by 2/3rds of his CSRS pension, which means that he will not be able to get a spousal benefit from you when you apply (2/3rds of his CSRS pension is more than he would get as a spousal benefit). You, on the other hand, will be eligible (at your full retirement age, or “FRA,” of 66) to file a “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits Only,” which will give you half of his WEP-reduced Social Security benefit (about $225/month). You are eligible to use the restricted application because you were born before January 2, 1954 (those born after January 1,1954 cannot use this option). By doing so, you can collect a spousal benefit from your husband while allowing your own SS retirement benefit to grow by 8% per year of delay (2/3rds of 1% per month of delay) up until you are 70 years of age, when your benefit amount will be 32% more than it would be at age 66. But when you claim your benefit at age 70 your husband’s spousal benefit won’t be based on your increased amount, but rather upon your FRA benefit amount of $2000, which means he still won’t get a spousal benefit due to the Government Pension Offset.

Finally, if you should predecease your husband, the GPO will also affect his survivor’s benefit, which is based upon 100% of what you were receiving at your death (not on your FRA benefit). So, using the numbers you provided, if your FRA benefit would be about $2000 your age 70 benefit will be about $2640 (not including COLA increases). Since 2/3rds of your husband’s CSRS pension is $2268, he’d normally be entitled to the difference $372) as his survivor’s benefit. But since that amount is less than his own WEP-reduced SS benefit, he won’t get a survivor’s benefit. As you may be aware, the Federal CSRS plan has been replaced by the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) which participates in Social Security, so WEP and GPO do not apply to those who retire under FERS.