I'm a 52 year old male who, after many productive high income years, is considering becoming a public school teacher. What happens to my social security if I do this? If I lose it as I think, then how do I determine if this career path makes sense in regards to a teacher pension vs social
If you become entitled to a pension based on work that was exempt from Social Security taxes, it could cause a reduction in the benefit amount payable on your own Social Security record due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). There is a WEP guarantee provision, though, that limits the reduction to basically no more than half of the amount of the non-covered pension, so you would likely still be ahead overall counting the teacher's pension. However, if you stop paying into Social Security because you take a non-covered job, that may limit your Social Security benefit rate as well. Social Security retirement benefits are based on a person's highest 35 years of wage-indexed covered earnings (https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10070.pdf), and if you have less than 35 years of covered earnings, zero earnings years will be averaged in when computing your benefit rate. For more information on WEP, refer to the following pamphlet: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf.
There is also another provision referred to as the Government Pension Offset (GPO), which could affect your ability to draw Social Security spousal or widower's benefits in the event you become eligible for a non-covered teacher's pension. That may not be important to you, though, unless you have a spouse with a higher earnings history than you. For more information on GPO, refer to this pamphlet: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf.
The maximization software on this website is programmed to handle both the WEP and GPO provisions, and it allows you to run various 'what-if' scenarios. That should help you determined the overall effect that a potential teacher's pension would have on your Social Security benefits.