Can I get a Social Security and Medicare refund?

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Q. My husband made contributions to Social Security through payroll deductions. In his mid-20s, he began his career with the federal government. He retired after 30+ years. During that time, he did not pay into Social Security or Medicare. But he has a balance for the years before, showing how much he and his employer paid in. Can we request a refund of those contributions?
— Retired

A. We would need to know more to answer your question precisely, but here is what you need to know so you can see how your situation applies.

For a person who was in Social Security-covered employment only until his mid-20s, chances are that he will not have accumulated the minimum of 40 “credits,” or 10 years of employment, of Social Security work history to qualify for any retirement benefits, said Robert Epstein, a chartered financial consultant with Access Wealth in Roseland.

Epstein said if he did contribute to Social Security for at least 10 years early in his career, he would qualify for a Social Security benefit, but that would be computed at a reduced rate due to his non-covered pension.

This reduction is called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

“There are no refunds of taxes paid for workers who have less than 40 credits on their work history and therefore do not receive a benefit,” he said. “However, if you are close to that point, you are allowed to return to work in covered employment for a few more years until you qualify for a benefit under your lifetime work history.”

At that point, you would still be subject to the WEP.

Another possibility is that the spouse qualifies for Social Security retirement benefits under her own work record.

In that case, the husband would be eligible for spousal Social Security benefits, and also Survivor benefits if the spouse is the first to die, Epstein said.

“However, the normal spousal and survivor benefits would be reduced by two-thirds of the husband’s non-covered pension, and therefore could be zero depending on the amounts of the pension and the spouse’s Social Security benefit,” Epstein said. “This reduction is called the Government Pension Offset (GPO).”

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