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Ask the Expert: Question about government pension offset rule

My husband died last year at age 96. He was the same age as me. His Social Security benefit was about $12,000 a year. Mine is about $3,275 a year. I also have a government pension of about $20,000 a year from working for the U.S. Postal Service from 1967 through 1990. A friend said that I should be collecting my husband's Social Security instead of my own. Is this correct? I was under the impression that my pension negates any additional Social Security benefit.

You're right that collecting a government pension reduces — and often eliminates — the Social Security benefits you'd otherwise collect as a spouse or a surviving spouse.

The Government Pension Offset rule reduces a surviving spouse’s Social Security benefit by two-thirds the amount of his or her government pension. Your pension is $20,000 a year, so your offset is $13,333. Sure enough, that eliminates your potential $12,000 widow's benefit.

This 1977 law wasn’t intended to be punitive. It’s meant to put government workers on an equal footing with non-government workers. Non-government retirees can collect their own Social Security benefit or a survivor benefit based on their deceased spouse's work record, whichever is bigger — not both.

But there are some complicated exceptions to the rule. To find out if you qualify for one of them, you must speak to a Social Security representative who can access your work history. The agency is making telephone appointments instead of in-person appointments during the pandemic. Go to ssa.gov/locator, scroll down to a blue box and click on it to reach a place to type in your ZIP code for the telephone number of your local office.

The bottom line

Special Social Security rules apply to retirees who collect a federal, state or municipal pension.

More information

ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf

bit.ly/NEAgovtpensionoffsetFAQ

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.

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