Should I Be Getting More?

Jun 24 2016 - 11:45am

I'm age 73 and still work making a meager profit in a couple 1 man businesses. I retired from teaching and took a lump sum to 'wisely' invest, but didn't/couldn't. That began at age 59-1/2. My wife worked, making about 45K a year as an admin assist. Being not wise and naive to boot, I knew nothing of the windfall provision when I filed for the $ benefit at age 68. I was a teacher only about 1/2 my working life, about 25 years, and worked other jobs the rest of the time as well as summers and vacations and moonlighting. Plenty enough SS credits. The agent did not give a whit that the school retirement was gone, and allowed me some $200+ monthly (after the typical Med benefit). Through working and paying taxes that has increased to $301, but my supplemental health insurance is creeping up. My wife gets about 1500 month , which is very helpful. After making this big a mess, is there a way for me to get more of what I feel I earned through all the money paid into SS? Thanks for your time and thoughts, and if you have a profitable answer I will buy your software!

Hi,

Sorry to hear about your situation. You are obviously being hit hard by both the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO). That is, assuming that you have already applied for spousal benefits on your wife's record. Based on your relative benefit amounts, you should qualify for a spousal benefit, although it may be fully offset to zero depending on the prorated amount of your teacher's pension.

Judging from your description, you opted for a lump-sum distribution of your teacher's pension, and the lump sum amount was based on both your contributions plus contributions made by your employer. If the lump sum you received was based solely on a withdrawal of your own contributions plus interest, it shouldn't result in WEP nor GPO.

When you take a lump sum in lieu of a pension, as opposed to a withdrawal of your contributions, the Social Security Administration (SSA) still counts it as a pension for WEP and GPO purposes, and prorates the amount of the lump sum in order to calculate a monthly amount. Assuming that SSA was correct in counting your lump sum distribution, calculating the prorated monthly amount, and you have applied for spousal benefits as well as retirement benefits on your own account, then you are likely getting all that you can right now.

There are exceptions to both WEP and GPO, but I don't know if you'd meet any of them. Here is some information that you may want to check out: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf & https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf. Also, here is an reference from Social Security's operation manual that gives a detailed description of the proration calculation of lump sum distributions: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0202608400.

Although it's too late for you to file a formal appeal of SSA's decision on your case, they can and should correct any errors they made in counting or calculating the amount of reduction in your benefits. You'll have to call their attention to them, though. Also, if you haven't already done so, be sure to apply for spousal benefits. Depending on the prorated amount of your teacher's pension, it's possible that you could qualify for some additional benefits now, or for survivor benefits in the future if your wife pre-deceases you.

Best, Jerry