Why Wouldn't My Wife's Spousal Benefits Be Offset If She Receives German Social Security Benefits?

Feb 13 2019 - 4:30pm

German citizen spouse is receiving US spousal social security benefits based on my record (~$1400). She will be entitled to German Social Security in November of 2019 (~$550). She never worked in the US. I understand from your previous answers that Government Pension Offset (GPO) does not apply to foreign pensions. GN 02608.400 B also states that GPO does not apply to social security benefits. Something applies to offset spousal benefit by social security covered work in the US so I'm concerned that there may be some other provision in the law that would offset German social security. Is German social security considered a pension and that's why it's not offset by GPO or is there another rule that exempts German social security from being offset. The treaty between Germany and the US says treat social security benefits as if earned in resident country. Maybe that's only for tax purposes but my concern is it could be interpreted to mean offset German social security from spousal benefit, in which case it's just a lot of work with no gain. Thanks, Rory

Hi Rory,

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision is only triggered by pensions based on a person's work for U.S. government entities (e.g. federal, state, local). Your wife's German Social Security benefits are obviously not based on work for a U.S. government agency, so they won't cause any offset to her U.S. Social Security spousal benefits.

The GPO provision shouldn't be confused with the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The WEP provision can cause a person's U.S. Social Security benefit to be reduced if they receive a pension based on their work that was exempt from U.S. Social Security taxes, including pensions from foreign countries. However, the WEP provision only applies to U.S. Social Security retirement or disability benefits payable on a person's own work record, not spousal benefits. If your wife was receiving Social Security benefits based on her earnings in the U.S., then receipt of German Social Security benefits could cause a reduction in her U.S. benefits due to the WEP provision. But WEP doesn't apply to spousal benefits and the GPO provision excludes foreign pensions from the definition of a government pension, which is why your wife's German Social Security benefits won't affect her spousal benefits.

Best, Jerry