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Ask Bob: Why Doesn't My Spouse Qualify for Spousal Benefits under Social Security?

Our expert answers a Retirement Daily reader's question about spousal benefits under Social Security.

Question

I'm 74 and was primarily a CSRS Civil Service employee for most of my career, "retired" at 56, but earned enough pre and post my CSRS career so I did begin receiving a Social Security payment upon attaining my full retirement age (FRA) at 66.
My question is this: My wife was an elementary school teacher in Massachusetts and receives a state pension. When applying for MY Social Security benefit, I asked about her spousal Social Security benefit (she was 67 at the time) but the Social Security employee told me that my wife was ineligible because she received a state pension. By the way, she only earned a limited number of Social Security quarters as a young woman before embarking on her teaching career.

Is this correct? Or have we missed out on years of spousal benefits because of bad information from a Social Security Administration (SSA) employee?

Answer

David Freitag, CLU®, a financial planning consultant with MassMutual Life Insurance Company, says that the Social Security employee is correct that the reader’s wife was ineligible for a spousal benefit. “She is subject to an offset called the ‘GPO’ because of her earnings history as a teacher in Massachusetts,” says Freitag. (GPO is short for Government Pension Offset.)

The GPO is often called the 2/3 rule. “If you take 2/3 of her state pension and subtract it from the spousal benefit available from your account (50% of your full retirement age benefit) you will see that she does not qualify for spousal benefits,” he explains. Her Social Security spousal benefit has been reduced to zero because of the offset.

Freitag says the reader and his wife haven’t missed out on years of spousal benefits due to bad information – the employee was following the rules. “The GPO offset rule was introduced in 1983. Many of the rules we follow today were introduced when the Greenspan Commission recommendations were turned into law,” he notes. Here is a link to a page on SSA.GOV that reviews the details of the GPO. https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf

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Email Robert.Powell@maven.io

Question

I'm 74 and was primarily a CSRS Civil Service employee for most of my career, "retired" at 56, but earned enough pre and post my CSRS career so I did begin receiving a Social Security payment upon attaining my full retirement age (FRA) at 66.
My question is this: My wife was an elementary school teacher in Massachusetts and receives a state pension. When applying for MY Social Security benefit, I asked about her spousal Social Security benefit (she was 67 at the time) but the Social Security employee told me that my wife was ineligible because she received a state pension. By the way, she only earned a limited number of Social Security quarters as a young woman before embarking on her teaching career.

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