Can Pensioned Educators Collect Social Security?

Senior Couple Reflecting on Their Life in Backyard

by The Editors of Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine

This article originally appeared on

My wife is a retired California teacher receiving a State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS) pension. She has not paid into Social Security. I am eligible to collect Social Security. Can she collect Social Security spousal benefits while I’m alive or death benefits if I die before her?

Your wife may be eligible for spousal and widow’s Social Security benefits, but the amount may be reduced because of the Government Pension Offset (GPO), which affects many people who earned a pension from a federal, state or local government and did not pay Social Security taxes. The GPO affects certain federal civil-service employees and some state- and local-government employees, such as some police officers, teachers and others who did not pay into the Social Security system, says William Jarrett, of the Social Security Administration. He recommends talking with a representative at your local Social Security office to help calculate the impact on her benefits.

The GPO reduces the spouse’s Social Security benefit by two-thirds of his or her government pension. If your wife is subject to the GPO and receives a monthly pension of $600, for example, then two-thirds of that ($400) must be deducted from her Social Security benefits. So if she’s eligible for a $500 monthly spouse’s or widow’s benefit, then she’ll receive $100 per month from Social Security ($500 – $400). If she takes her STRS pension annuity as a lump sum, then Social Security will calculate the reduction as if she chose to get monthly benefits, says Jarrett.

For more information about the Government Pension Offset, see the GPO fact sheet and calculator. For more information specifically for CalSTRS pensions, see Social Security, CalSTRS and You. The CalSTRS fact sheet can help people calculate the impact of the GPO on their spousal benefits, as well as calculate their own Social Security benefits if they paid into the system during one job but not another (a situation called the “Windfall Elimination Provision”).
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