How does my government job affect my Social Security?September 5, 2012: 3:04 PM ET
I recently retired from federal government under CSRS Offset. I worked about 10 years prior to working for the federal government. I am also a former spouse of a FERS federal employee not yet retired. Under my retirement program I receive no Social Security. When I am old enough to be eligible, can I draw Social Security benefits from my non-federal work and/or former spouse? — Diane G.
For readers who aren't familiar with the CSRS Offset program, it is a modified version of the Civil Service Retirement System designed for certain government employees.
Along with receiving a government pension, CSRS Offset retirees are eligible to begin drawing Social Security retirement benefits at age 62. At that point, a calculation based on the employee's yearly Social Security benefit is made and the CSRS pension is offset, or reduced, by that amount — even if the employee opts not to draw Social Security at that time.
That's how the program works in theory. In your case there might be statutory hurdles that make it difficult to collect your full Social Security benefit, says Michael Mattison, a Chartered Federal Employee Benefits Consultant based in Gaithersburg, Md. Mattison points out that since you don't have 30 years of substantial income where you paid into Social Security, the benefit you would have been eligible for is subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision, or WEP. That could slash your Social Security benefit by as much as $383.50 a month, he says.
You might see better results if you claim Social Security benefits based on your ex-husband's earnings record, says Tammy Flanagan, senior benefits director at the National Institute for Transition Planning, a Rockville, Md.-based organization that works to educate federal employees about issues such as benefits and retirement. As an employee covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System, or FERS, your ex has been paying into Social Security throughout his employment. At full retirement age, a person who was married to a former spouse for at least 10 years and who has not remarried is entitled to either 100% of her Social Security benefit, or 50% of her former spouse's benefit, whichever is higher. Best of all, if you do claim your husband's Social Security benefits instead of your own, your monthly payout will not be affected by the WEP.
Your first move should be to set up an appointment with a Social Security Administration representative, who can show you exactly what you can claim from your own Social Security record versus what you can claim from your spouse's record.
— Marc Mewshaw
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