Q&A: Government pensions and Social Security

Dear Liz: Both of my parents have been retired for over 25 years. My father collects Social Security but my mother didn’t have enough quarters to collect. Both have Postal Service retirements. Can my mother file and get half of my father’s amount? Can they get back payments for 25 years?

Answer: The answer to both questions is “probably not.”

Your parents’ situation is complicated by the fact that the federal government changed its pension system for civilian employment in the 1980s. Prior to 1984, civilian employment was covered by the Civil Service Retirement System and workers did not pay into Social Security. Starting in January 1984, new hires were covered by the Federal Employee Retirement System and were required to pay into Social Security. Current hires had the option, but not the requirement, to join FERS, says William Meyer, founder of Social Security Solutions, a claiming strategy site.

Normally when someone receives a pension from a job that didn’t pay into Social Security, the government pension offset would reduce or eliminate any Social Security spousal benefit they might otherwise receive. However, there is an exception: The offset doesn’t apply to government workers who pay Social Security taxes for the last 60 months of employment. This exception applies to employees paying into FERS, Meyer says.

If your mother paid into FERS during the last 60 months of her employment at the Postal Service, she would be eligible for a spousal benefit on your father’s record, Meyer says. If your mother didn’t pay into FERS those last 60 months, the government pension offset would apply and would reduce or eliminate any spousal benefit.

That option should have been explored when your parents applied for their Postal Service retirement benefits, Meyer says. Social Security also would have looked into it as part of your father’s application process. If she’s not receiving a Social Security spousal benefit, she probably didn’t switch to FERS and did not pay into Social Security during the last 60 months of her employment at the Postal Service, Meyer says.

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Comments

  1. richard m vanderlip says

    Hello Liz, can you suggest someone to talk to about collecting my pension from a non Social Security job. I collect Social security from working another job for over 30 years.