Can this civil service retiree get Social Security benefits?


Q. I am currently retired from United States Postal Service under Civil Service, so I didn’t pay into Social Security the whole time. I did before that job, and I’m four credits short for Social Security. However, my wife collects on disability. Can I possibly get my credits through her?
— Retired

A. It’s not that simple.

Let’s go over the retirement plans first.

Employees of the United States Postal Service are covered under either the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or Federal Employment Retirement System (FERS).

Postal employees hired prior to 1984 are part of CSRS and they do not contribute to Social Security, but instead contribute a percentage of their pay towards their retirement benefit, said Michael Maye, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant with MJM Financial in Gillette.

He said these workers are not entitled to Social Security benefits based on their USPS employment.

Now it gets a little more complex.

Spousal Social Security benefits are subject to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) while their own Social Security
benefit is subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

Both rules can reduce or entirely eliminate potential Social Security benefits for individuals with government pensions that were “non-covered” for Social Security purposes, Maye said.

The GPO can reduce spousal or widow/widower benefits by two-thirds of the amount of the “non-covered” government pension from a job, Maye said.

“The WEP provision relates to an individual’s own Social Security benefit if they have both a `non-covered’ government pension plus covered earnings from a job subject to Social Security,” Maye said. “WEP which was made law in 1983 was intended to remove an unintended advantage for government workers who collect a `non-covered’ government pension but also had some earnings from `covered’ work that paid into Social Security.

That’s for workers who were hired into CSRS and remained in the CSRS plan. Workers hired into CSRS plan have the ability to transfer into the FERS plan, which is a more complex situation, Maye said.

Workers hired after 1984 are part of the Federal Employment Retirement System (FERS). Employees in the FERS system are eligible for both a Thrift Savings plan as well as Social Security benefits.

Maye said FERS is considered a “covered” plan under Social Security so workers who started in the FERS plan are not subject to the GPO or WEP provisions.

So based on your question, it seems that you have a “non-covered” government pension from USPS under CSRS, plus you have earned income from a non-government job(s) with earnings that were subject to Social Security taxes.

It also seems you fell short in terms of earning enough credits to qualify for your own Social Security benefits on your earnings record.

Even if you had enough Social Security credits for your own benefit, any Social Security benefits would be subject to the WEP provisions, Maye said.

“In terms of a spousal benefit from his wife, any Social Security benefits he would normally be entitled to as a spouse would be subject to the GPO provisions,” Maye said. “Also, the GPO provision also applies to any spousal disability dependent/survivor benefits as well.”

To be sure, we recommend you and your spouse schedule an appointment at your local Social Security office to have your exact circumstances and facts reviewed.

“There is no harm in being sure,” Maye said. “You don’t want to leave any benefits on the table.”

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This story was originally published on Nov. 21, 2019. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.