Why Would My Widow's Rate Be So Low?

Mar 29 2017 - 8:00am

My Husband passed, im 60 I work for public school dept. I was planning to retire in January. I have a retirement plan and wold be getting a lesser amount at age 60. I was told if I get a pension and collect my husband ss I would receive only a reduced rate of $350.00 from the 71.5 % of 1,900. I do not understand this If he was here I would be ok. I cant survive on just my week to week pay and thought his social security for widow would have helped me. If I coutinue workin I was told I will also get a reduction because I make too much. I dont understand any of this and I am grieving at the moment and finding it difficult to do the right thing. I am having difficulties at work because of my anxioity. Please help. Also if I do collect his benefits, would I be allowed to wait until my full retirement age of 66.5 to collect my own and get the full rate? Thank you.


I'm sorry for your loss.

If you receive a government pension based on your work that was exempt from Social Security taxes, Social Security deducts 2/3rds of the amount of the non-covered pension from any Social Security widow's benefits for which you may qualify. This is due to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision (https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf). There is also an earnings test (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking2.html) that could preclude you from receiving benefits, or at least limit what your could receive, prior to full retirement age if you continue working.

You can file for reduced widow's benefits at age 60 and still file for unreduced benefits on your own record at full retirement age, but there is another provision that will likely affect your own retirement benefits. That is the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which causes a less generous benefit calculation formula to be used for most people receiving pensions based on work not covered by Social Security taxes (https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf).

Your best strategy is likely one of the following:
1) File for widow's benefits at age 60 or as soon as your earnings will permit payment of some benefits, then switch to your own record at age 70; or,
2) File for reduced benefits on your own record at age 62 or as soon as your earnings will permit payment of some benefits, then file for unreduced widow's benefits at full retirement age.

Fortunately, the maximization software available on this website is programmed to handle the WEP and GPO provisions, as well as the earnings test. So, you may want to strongly consider using the software in order to determine which filing strategy would be best for you.

Best, Jerry