Q & A

What’s the difference between WEP and GPO?

Complete Question: I know a government pension affects Social Security benefits in some way, but what’s the difference between WEP and GPO? How do I know which one applies to me?

Answer: You are right that government pensions affect Social Security benefits. There are many people (such as teachers who work outside of the school during the summer) who are eligible for both government pensions and Social Security. If this applies to you, your Social Security benefits could be reduced because of your government pension. Both the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) are related to this issue. There is one major difference between them, though.

WEP applies when you worked for a government agency that did not withhold Social Security taxes, but is paying you a pension, while at the same time you paid into Social Security at some other point and earned enough credits to receive Social Security benefits. If this applies to you, you will receive your pension, which could possibly reduce your Social Security benefit depending on how many years you paid into Social Security. (You can email me at cmiles@amacfoundation.com if you would like to determine how WEP will affect your specific situation.) WEP does guarantee that it will not eliminate all of your Social Security benefit, just in case your pension is fairly low. The provision guarantees that the reduction in your Social Security benefit will not be more than half of the amount of your pension. For example, if your pension is $500/month and your Social Security is $1000/month, WEP guarantees that your SS benefit will not be reduced by more than $250. This means your MINIMUM total benefit would be $1,250 ($500 pension + $750 Social Security). Note that this is a minimum, and a true calculation can only be determined after examining a person’s specific work history.

A Government Pension Offset (GPO) is different because it applies to spousal and survivor benefits (WEP applies only to the worker’s benefits). Just like WEP, GPO might lower your Social Security Survivor or Spouse benefits if you are receiving a government pension. Furthermore, the GPO does NOT have a guarantee. There is a possibility that Spousal or Survivor benefits can be reduced to $0. It is also important to note that WEP and GPO reductions are calculated differently.

C.J. Miles, MSA, MBAHCM
Research Analyst/Certified Social Security Advisor (NSSA)
AMAC Foundation
Notice: If you have any questions about WEP, GPO, or any other Social Security issues, you can reply below. If you would like to discuss your situation privately, or you would like your WEP or GPO calculated, you can contact C.J. at cmiles@amacfoundation.com. Please do not provide any personal identification information such as Social Security numbers. Benefit estimations can be discussed and calculated without this information.

Comments On This Topic

  1. If you have at least 30 years of employment during which you had “substantial” earnings and contributed to Social Security during that employment, then you will be exempt from the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), but not the Government Pension Offset (GPO). Here is a link to Social Security’s table which shows the substantial earnings levels for each year. https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf#page=2 Compare your actual yearly SS-earnings to the substantial levels in the chart to see if your earnings were considered substantial. If you have 30 or more years of “substantial” earnings, then WEP will not apply to you. But regardless of your years of substantial SS earnings, the GPO will apply to any spousal or survivor benefits you are entitled to.
    Russell Gloor
    The AMAC Foundation
    Social Security Advisor

  2. Hi, thanks for the article. Trying to make sure we understand this. I worked in a school district for 17 years, recently retiring with a pension. I also qualify for social security.
    Questions…
    1. When I file for social security, my amount will be reduced by WEP?
    2. If I were to file under my spouse’s record, then GPO applies?
    3. If spouse predeceases me, GPO still applies to any benefits I (should) receive?
    4. What happens if I get a cola for the pension, is it taken into account for either calculation?
    5. How accurate are the WEP and GPO calculators on the SSA website?
    Thanks for your help!

    • Dear Ms. Fromen,

      1) Yes, unless you have 30 years of substantial earnings.
      2) Yes
      3) Yes, any spousal or survivor benefit you are eligible for will be reduced by 2/3 of your pension.
      4) The cola added to your pension will reduce the amount of any spousal or survivor benefit you might receive.
      5) The calculators are accurate, but remember, just like the amount showing on your SS statement, it is an estimate.

  3. I WORKED 34YRS FOR THE POSTAL SERVICE, WHEN I DIE MY WIFE GETS PART OF MY PENSION.
    SHE RECEIVES SOCIAL SECURITY. WILL IT AFFECT HER SOCIAL SECURITY CHECK ?

    • You wife’s Social Security benefit will not be affected even though she will receive part of your Government pension. In fact, if you also receive a Social Security benefit, and it is higher than your wife’s benefit before the WEP reduction to your benefit, she would also receive your higher benefit.

  4. Also….IF…I purchase (buy) 4 years worth of Soc Security covered employment from a KS school district that I worked in….and have it credited to my MISSOURI retirement system….my last 60 months…..will it count towards…the 60 MONTH EXEMPTION ??? Thanks! PB

    • It has to be from the same retirement system.

      Per the Social Security website:
      “An individual may purchase credits for service actually performed in the past under the same retirement system and the purchased months of service may be used to reduce the 60-month requirement. However, if an individual’s current retirement system allows the individual to “purchase” or to “transfer” credits for service performed under a different retirement system to increase his or her annuity, neither the “purchased” nor “transferred” credits are considered service and cannot be used to reduce the 60-month requirement.”

  5. WHO CAN GIVE ME INFORMATION ON HOW TO ELIMINATE THE GOVERNMENT PENSION OFFSET??? THERE’S A RULE…THAT IF YOU WORK YOUR LAST 60 MONTHS IN THE SAME RETIREMENT SYSTEM…AND IT DEDUCTS SOC SECURITY…YOU CAN FILL OUT PAPERWORK AND HAVE THE OFFSET ELIMINATED.!!! HOW DO I DO THIS??? PLEASE GIVE ME INFORMATION.

    • Dear Pam: Form SSA 3885, Government Pension Questionnaire https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-3885.pdf This form can be obtained on line so you can have it completed when you go in for your appointment at Social Security. Take along any documentation that you have to prove you qualify for the 60 month exception rule.

      • Do I have to work FULL TIME….the last 60 months? Or…can I work PART TIME for the RETIREMENT SYSTEM…and part time somewhere else ? Do I have to make a “certain amount” of earnings? Or….can I work ONE DAY a MONTH ….or does the RETIREMENT SYSTEM have to “tell me” what to do ? I would like more “specifics”. Thank you! PB

        • Dear Pam,
          I am providing you with the rules from the Social Security web site, along with the website link to the page that contains all the rules for determining a month of credit toward the 60-month requirement.
          Determining a month of credit toward the 60-month requirement
          a. Social Security covered employment during at least 1 day in a given month constitutes a month of service for purposes of meeting the 60-month requirement. For example, if an individual begins covered employment on July 31, the individual would get credit for the month of July as long as there was no noncovered employment that month under the same pension plan. Any month of noncovered employment covered by the government pension system, whether concurrent or not, excludes that month from Social Security covered employment if it occurred after March 2, 2004.
          b. If an individual worked under a written contract or oral agreement, you should use the terms of the written contract of employment or oral agreement to determine if an employer or employee relationship existed and the number of months that relationship existed. For example, if a contract period is 6 months, consider the worker employed for 6 months.
          c. Teachers usually work under full year contracts that varies in length; e.g., some are for 12 months and some are for 10 months. Teachers earn 12 months of credit toward the 60-month requirement regardless of the contract length provided that they:
          o work the entire contract year; and
          o covered for the entire school year by both their own government retirement system as well as Social Security.
          However, if a teacher does not work for the entire school year (ex. starts later in the school year, retires mid-year, etc.) give credit only for the actual months that they work under both systems.

          https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.NSF/lnx/0202608107

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