Q & A
Ask Rusty – Working Internationally and Social Security
Dear Rusty: For a number of years I lived and worked in Germany. I paid into their version of social security. As far as I know I will be eligible to receive German benefits either in a lump sum or monthly amount when I reach the age of 65. If that happens can you tell me how this will affect my social security benefits? Signed: International worker
Dear International Worker: Germany is one of the 24 countries with which the U.S. has a bilateral agreement, also known as a “totalization agreement”. This means that your contributions to the German retirement system can be coordinated with your U.S. Social Security contributions to help you qualify for U.S. Social Security benefits. What happens is that you receive U.S. Social Security credit for your contributions to the German equivalent program, to help you gain enough credits to receive U.S. Social Security benefits. The US/Germany agreement has two main purposes:
- First, it eliminates dual Social Security taxation; a situation which occurs when a worker from one country works in the other country and would otherwise be required to pay Social Security taxes to both countries on the same earnings.
- Second, the agreement helps fill gaps in benefit protection for workers who have divided their careers between the U.S. and Germany (or any of the other countries with which there is an agreement).
When a worker has some U.S. coverage but not enough to qualify for benefits, the Social Security Administration will count periods of coverage that the worker has earned under the German Social Security program. Germany will also take into account a worker’s coverage under the U.S. program if it is needed to qualify for that country’s Social Security benefits. If the combined credits in the two countries enable the worker to meet the eligibility requirements, a partial benefit can then be paid. The agreement allows the Social Security Administration to “totalize” U.S. and German coverage credits only if the worker has at least 6 quarters of U.S. coverage. Similarly, a person may need a minimum amount of coverage under Germany’s system in order to have U.S. coverage counted toward meeting the German benefit eligibility requirements. Click on this link to learn all you need to know about the US/Germany totalization agreement: https://www.ssa.gov/international/Agreement_Pamphlets/germany.html.
If you qualify for Social Security benefits from both the United States and Germany and you don’t need the totalization agreement to qualify for either benefit, the amount of your U.S. benefit may be reduced. This is a result of a provision in U.S. law that can affect the way your Social Security benefit is computed if you also receive a pension based upon work that was not covered by U.S. Social Security. In this case, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the U.S. Social Security program could affect your U.S. Social Security benefit amount, depending upon how many years of “substantial” U.S. Social Security earnings you have. The WEP impact is mitigated if you have more than 20 years of U.S. Social Security covered work and eliminated if you have 30 or more years of U.S. Social Security work. You can find out more about WEP by going to this link: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf .
The information presented in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The opinions and interpretations expressed are the viewpoints of the AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory staff, trained and accredited under the National Social Security Advisors program of the National Social Security Association, LLC (NSSA). NSSA, the AMAC Foundation, and the Foundation’s Social Security Advisors are not affiliated with or endorsed by the United States Government, the Social Security Administration, or any other state government. Furthermore, the AMAC Foundation and its staff do not provide legal or accounting services. The Foundation welcomes questions from readers regarding Social Security issues. To submit a request, contact the Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Foundation’s website at www.amacfoundation.org.