Do I Have A Choice Between WEP & GPO?

Feb 23 2017 - 6:30am

Hello Mr. Koltikoff, I have a SS question that I have researched multiple times but am unable to find an answer. And right now, I don't trust SS to give me the correct one.

I am a retired Texas teacher and paid into TRS. I understand the WEP and while I don't like it, it is what it is. For now. Anyway, my ex-husband died five years ago at the age of 62. We were married for 23 years. I know I am entitled to a survivor's benefit and thus the GPO affects me as well. (I am 64 and am waiting until I turn 66 to make any SS decisions.)

My question is this: do I have a choice between which one I take? I'd like to take the better of the two. While I know that the GPO wipes out most pensioners' entitlement, mine may not completely do this due to the large salary my ex was making. Information makes me think I am stuck with the GPO no matter what but I find nothing definitive. It is doubtful that going the WEP route will be financially better, but I'd like to know what my choices are.

One more bit of information: I retired from TRS but have currently worked full time, putting into SS for the last six years. I also earned all my quarters before I became a teacher. I have looked at the 35 years of substantial earnings. I'll never make that due to very low wages my first few years as a teen/young adult. At 66, I should make 20 years of substantial earnings.

I would appreciate a response at your convenience or even a link to a place that will answer my question. Thanks for all you do. I read your columns all the time!

Best regards,
Linda

Hi Linda,

No, you don't really have a choice between WEP (Windfall Elimination Provision) & GPO (Government Pension Offset). The WEP provision only affects benefit payments based on a person's own work record (i.e. Retirement and Disability Benefits), whereas GPO only affects auxiliary and survivor (e.g. Widow's, Spouse's, and Divorcee Benefits). If you receive a government pension based on work that wasn't subject to Social Security taxes, your benefits may be subject to either or both provisions depending on the type of benefit for which you are eligible. But, you do have a choice with regard to the type of benefit for which you apply.

Here are links to Social Security publications explaining the WEP & GPO provisions (https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf & https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf). By the way, if you are potentially entitled to both retirement benefits on your own record and surviving divorced spousal benefits, you may be making a mistake by waiting to look into your filing options. You may want to strongly consider running the maximization software available on this website in order to determine the best time to apply for each type of benefit. The software is programmed to handle the potential effects of both WEP and GPO on your benefits.

Best, Jerry