Mailbag: Update on the Repeal of the Windfall Elimination Provision

answers to social security questions

Kathleen asked me about the current status on the repeal of the Windfall Elimination Provision.


Where do things stand legislatively now re Windfall Profit Elimination?

As someone who worked as a teacher for only 10 years–the rest of my employment having been primarily with non-profits–I’m suffering from the cuts to what would have been my  social security. To add insult to injury, California (at least) was not required to alert potential new teachers about the WEP effect until 2 months after I was employed, so I wasn’t informed about it until it was  close to my retirement.

I hope you can send me an update.

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Mailbag: A pastor asks, “Should I Opt Out of Social Security If I’m Already Entitled to Benefits?”

answers to social security questions

Question from a pastor on opting out of Social Security.


I am a full time pastor in NC & I read this article you wrote which prompted a question (

I worked in secular employment for about 20 years before becoming a pastor. I have always had some religious and ethical issues with the SS system but more so since I receive my entire salary from peoples tithes and offerings. So I have a question about should I opt out of Social Security…

Since I worked in non-church based jobs for 20 years and paid SS tax all those years would I still get a benefit from that portion of working life if I opt out of the system with regard to my church income?

Just wondering.

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What Illinois Teachers Need To Know About Social Security

Illinios teachers and Social Security

If you’re a teacher who has worked in Illinois, you have some special challenges when figuring out your potential Social Security benefits.  Whether you are a new teacher working on a long-term financial plan, or an experienced educator preparing for an imminent retirement, it is important that you understand how your teaching pension impacts your eligibility for Social Security benefits.

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Louisiana Social Security: What Louisiana State Public Employees Should Know

Louisiana teachers and social security

Louisiana state public employees face special challenges when it comes to figuring out their retirement benefits.  Most Louisiana state public employees, who may be covered by LASERS, LSERS, TRSL, or other public employee retirement plans, don’t pay into the Social Security system.  This means their ability to receive Social Security benefits is different from typical employment where the employee pays Social Security taxes.  The situation gets more confusing when an eligible employee has some Social Security covered employment and some non-Social Security covered employment.  Even worse, many people don’t learn about the rules until they reach retirement age, and they may have made decisions based on faulty information.

Thankfully, the rules aren’t too complicated, and I’m here to help you decipher them. 

There are two rules that apply here:  the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO).  These links give more detailed information about each rule, but here are summaries:

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Mailbag: Social Security Substantial Earnings and the GPO

answers to social security questions

Today’s question comes from Bob.


“Hi Devin, I just came across your website and found the articles on SS Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset interesting reading.  I have tried to find an answer to a question but cannot do so; even SS personnel could not tell me the answer and I wonder if you would be so kind to address.

Specially, would the GPO apply in the following case.

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Ohio Social Security: What Ohio Public Employees Need to Know

Coordinating STRS, SERS, OPERS and Social Security Benefits


Ohio public employees and social security benefits


Ohio public employees have a right to be perplexed about their Social Security benefits. The rules for collecting STRS, SERS and OPERS and Social Security can be confusing and intimidating. It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of really bad information on the internet!

The good news is, the rules can made understandable so you can use them to your advantage in planning your retirement strategy.

The Basics of Social Security in Ohio

If you work in local or state government in Ohio, there are two rules that could affect your ability to claim 100% of your Social Security benefit. The rules are called the “Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)” and the “Government Pension Offset (GPO).”

These two provisions reduce (or completely eliminate) benefits for individuals who worked at a job where they:
A) did not pay Social Security tax
B) earned a pension from that work

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The Social Security Benefit REDUCTION Act of 2015?

A.K.A The Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2015

wep repeal social security


I really thought the repeal of the Windfall Elimination Provision through HR 711: The Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2015  was a good idea.

I’ve changed my mind.

Read my original article on the repeal of the Windfall Elimination Provision

The spirit of the bill is great. Teachers, firefighters and other public servants often get the short side of the stick with Social Security and I thought this bill was going to go a long way towards fixing it. There were some lingering questions, but overall I was excited that some real action on this unequal treatment seemed poised to finally move forward.

That excitement was before I had a conversation with Dr. Andy Szakmary, a Professor of Finance at Richmond University. His take on this legislation was a little different than mine. He caught a few things in the Bill and supporting testimony that had slipped right by me. After several conversations with Dr. Szakmary, these are some of his comments and insight that really stood out to me.

“The primary problem with HR 711 is the 14 MILLION PEOPLE (according to Goss’ testimony, pp.3-4) who are not currently subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) but will become impacted due to the formula change in HR 711.  (versus 1.25 million people who will receive a higher benefit than under the current formula)

So there will be 11 losers for every winner.

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Mailbag: CSRS and Social Security

answers to social security questions

Today’s question comes from M. in response to my article on the potential elimination of the Windfall Elimination Provision.

“I read your article about the WEP and wondered how it might relate to someone like me.

I have earned money which was covered first by the Civil Service Retirement  (CSR) System from 1977 until 2012 when I retired from Federal Service.  Later, I returned to work as a full time contractor covered by Social Security from 2013-2015.  I will turn 62 in 2017.  Do you think that I would gain or lose retirement income if the WEP was changed?

Also, I wondered if the change would affect my eligibility to gain a portion of my husband’s pension if he should die first.  He has always been covered by Social Security and at 67 is currently retired.  However, it is my understanding that if he precedes me, I would receive none of his pension.   Would a change to the calculation of benefits affect this?

Lastly, would it be worth my while to return to work?  As you can see, I only have about 12 quarters of earnings under Social Security and would need about 28 more to have 40 quarters.  In addition to earning more money, having a bigger retirement check would be attractive.  (This is important since my family is long-lived… Mom and Dad are still going strong at 90+.)  Yet, under the current WEP getting a bigger pension check due to Social Security didn’t seem possible.

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Checking Your Social Security Earnings Record

A step by step guide

checking social security earnings record online

How confident are you that your Social Security earnings record is accurate?

Unless you’ve checked it recently, you shouldn’t be too sure.

Mistakes in an individual’s Social Security earnings record are actually much more common than most people think. In tax year 2012 alone, the Social Security Administration reported $71 billion in wages that could not be matched to an individuals earnings record! The good news is that the Social Security Administration has a system for sorting out some of these mistakes and assigning the earnings to the correct record. But nearly half of the mismatches are never corrected. That means that in 2012 there were approximately $35 billion in wages that was never credited to an individual’s Social Security history.

Why A Social Security Earnings Record Mistake Matters

A mistake in your earnings history can make a big difference in how your Social Security benefits are calculated. How? It all goes back to the benefit’s formula. The Social Security Administration uses your highest 35 years of earnings as a cornerstone of the benefit calculation. If any of these 35 years are incorrect or missing altogether, the average is skewed. One year of missing earnings can make a difference of $100 per month (or more!) in your benefit amount. Over your lifetime, that could be nearly $30,000 in missed benefits from one year of missing earnings.

You need to check your Social Security earnings record today. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to do.

Here’s how to accomplish this in five easy steps.

Step 1

Visit to get started. If you click the link, it will open Social Security’s website in a separate page so you can keep using this guide.

Once the page loads, simple click on the button labeled “Sign In or Create an Account.”
my social security account sign in page

Step #2

Type your username and password and click the button labeled “Sign In.”

social security online username and password page

Step #3

In the third step, you need to read and agree to the my Social Security Terms of Service. Be sure to carefully read this page before clicking in the “I agree” box and then clicking “Next.”

Although you need to understand this information for yourself, here’s a summary of what you are agreeing to.

-You will never share your information with anyone or use anyone’s account
-Once you open an account, you will no longer receive an paper statement in the mail. Instead, you’ll receive an annual email reminding you to login and check your information.


my ssa terms of service

Step #4

Now that you are on the home page, you just need to click on “Earnings Record” tab in the top.


social security earnings record

Step #5

On your screen you should see your earnings record. Check it carefully. If there is a mistake, the burden is yours to prove it. You’ll need to locate documents that prove the error such as tax forms, W-2 forms or pay stubs. If you can’t find these, Social Security says to write down the name and address of your employer, the dates you worked there, how much you earned and the name and Social Security number you were using while you were employed, and the agency will use this information to investigate the problem.

For more information from the Social Security Administration on the procedure, you can visit the section of their POMS manual that discusses this.


social security earnings

Step #5 1/2

Dont forget to sign out! This system has too much valuable information to leave it open.


sign out social security online



Mailbag: Opting out of Social Security and Medicare Coverage

answers to social security questions

Today’s Social Security question comes from Dan in Hawaii.

“Hello, I read your blog online and wondered if I could ask you a question? I am a minister writing in regards to potentially opting out of SS on the grounds of my faith. If I do choose to opt out due to religious reasons can you tell me if my wife and I would still receive Medicare once retired? I have read articles that seem to say that opting out of SS will also opt you out of Medicare, but I have also read some articles that share that if we have already paid 10 years into SS that Medicare will then be guaranteed even if we opt out of SS? I would love it if you wouldn’t mind clarifying the ramifications for us specifically in regards to Medicare if we do opt out?

Thank you so much,


First, how awesome it must be to live in Hawaii! I’ve never been, but I’ve been hearing talk around my house about planning a trip next year :-).

There are a few unknown things that make it really hard to give you a precise answer. Generally, ministers do have the option of opting out of Social Security, but they must opt out within the first two years of their ministry. If you’ve been a minister for a while, you simply don’t have that option.

If you are a new minister, and want to opt out, you must agree to the following language from the IRS Publication 4361:

I certify that I am conscientiously opposed to, or because of my religious principles I am opposed to, the acceptance of any public insurance that makes payments in the event of death, disability, old age, or retirement; or that makes payments toward the cost of, or provides services for, medical care. 

If you agree to this language, the financial ramifications of opting out may not be important to you. But if you want to review them, please read my article on the cost of opting out of Social Security.

If you have already paid in enough years to qualify for Medicare, you’ll be covered even if you opt out of Social Security now.

If you opt out without paying in enough years (or credits), you’ll still be covered. You’ll just have to pay for what others get free.  The credits for Medicare purposes simply reduce, or eliminate, your part A premium.  The chart below lists the part A premium amounts for the corresponding Social Security credits. (Typically, one year = 4 credits)

Social Security Credits for Medicare


If you want to read about the number of credits required for other benefits, please read my article on Social Security Credits.

Thanks for your question!

A note for all readers.

I love Social Security questions! I’ll answer them privately as time allows, but if I think the answer will benefit a wide audience, I’ll also publish them on my blog. Don’t worry, I’ll change up enough personal details so you’ll stay unknown. Send your questions to

If you need individual and specific help, I’m always available for a consultation.

As a final resource, read my article on other ways to find answers to your Social Security questions.