I get a N.J. pension. Can I also get my ex’s Social Security?

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Q. I am a 59-year-old male, retired and receiving a New Jersey public pension. I was married for 15 years and divorced 20 years ago. She is now 57. I have very few quarters paid into Social Security from working part-time in grocery stores during high school and college. The career I retired from didn’t take Social Security deductions. When I turn 65, I planned to sign up for Medicare for the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program. I would get reimbursed for the premiums from my former government employer. Can I apply for Social Security benefits and Medicare through my ex-wife? Do I have to wait until she is age eligible or when I turn 62? How does the “windfall penalty” work?
— Hoping I’m eligible

A. A divorced spouse may be able to receive benefits from both Social Security and Medicare if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Let’s take the government-sponsored programs one at a time.

In order to apply for benefits as a divorced spouse, you must have been married for 10 years or more, divorced for two years, have reached age 62, remain unmarried and be entitled to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits yourself, said Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge.

She said the amount you are eligible to receive — 50% of the value of your ex-spouse’s benefit — must be greater than what you would receive on your own retirement record, she said.

“Divorced spouses are eligible to file for benefits at age 62 regardless of whether their ex-spouse has reached retirement age,” she said. “However, Social Security will be reduced permanently for every month that someone files prior to full retirement age.”

Mott said as a former government employee, it is very likely that any benefit you might be entitled to would be subject to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) rule which affects the amount paid to spouses, ex-spouses and widows or widowers.

“When you receive a government pension, two-thirds of the value will be deducted from the spousal benefit amount you’d be entitled to receive,” she said. “This reduction could cause the remaining amount to be less that what you are receiving now.”

As an example, let’s say your pension is $1,800, the GPO would deduct $1,200 from the value of your divorced spouse benefit. If the divorced spouse benefit was greater than $1,200, you’d receive the difference, but if it were less than $1,200, you would receive nothing at all, she said.

The Windfall Elimination provision (WEP) is used to determine the Social Security benefit for an individual who worked for an employer that did not withhold FICA taxes, Mott said. However, the individual must qualify to receive Social Security in order for this provision to be applied and it is not used with survivor benefits, she said.

Medicare is a health insurance program that is provided by the U.S. government. Most individuals apply for Medicare just before turning age 65, she said. Part A covers hospital insurance while Part B includes many preventive services, outpatient care, medical supplies and doctor’s visits. The prescription coverage portion of Medicare is known as Part D. The basic qualifications for Medicare include U.S. citizenship and eligibility to receive Social Security or a railroad retirement benefit, she said.

It is possible to apply for and obtain benefits based on a spouse or ex-spouses work record and receive premium-free Part A coverage, Mott said.

“All Medicare recipients pay the Part B premiums which are $148.50 per month, but can be higher if your income exceeds certain limits,” she said. “Part D plans come with their own premium which will vary depending on the plan selected. You are fortunate that you are able to get reimbursement for your premiums through the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program. Plan.”

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This story was originally published on Jan. 26, 2021.

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