Teacher’s Retirement and Social Security (2020 Update)

Teachers and social security benefits

“Can I get teacher’s retirement and Social Security?”

That’s one of the most commonly asked questions that I hear whenever I speak or lead a workshop on Social Security.

There’s no doubt this can be a complex topic and most of the teachers that I’ve talked to have seen lots of conflicting information — so let’s clear up the confusion and take a closer look at the rules on teacher’s retirement and Social Security.

The Social Security Rules Teachers Need to Know

In the 1970s and 1980s, laws were passed that amended the Social Security rules to keep individuals from “double dipping,” or receiving both a Social Security benefit and a pension from a job where they did not pay into the Social Security system.

The results of these amendments are two rules that could impact your ability to claim your full Social Security benefit as a teacher: The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO).

These provisions reduce (or eliminate) benefits for those who worked in a job in which they:

  1. Qualified for a pension and
  2. Did not pay Social Security taxes.

This is not limited to teachers. Other professions that often fall into this group include public sector workers like firefighters, police officers and numerous other state, county and local employees.

If You Were Employed But Weren’t Covered by Social Security

In the beginning, Social Security didn’t cover any public sector employees. But as many states dropped their own pension plans and adopted coverage agreements with the Social Security Administration, things have changed.

Today there are still 15 states that participate solely in their own pension plans instead of Social Security:

illustration showing states where teachers do not pay social security tax

Those states are:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia (some school districts)
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky (some school districts)
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island (some school districts)
  • Texas

If you are a teacher in one of those states, the rules for collecting a Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) pension and Social Security can be confusing and maddening to try and figure out.

That’s especially true if you’ve paid into the Social Security system for enough quarters to qualify for a benefit, which is fairly common among teachers.

Many teachers find themselves in this situation for a variety of reasons. For some, teaching is a second career, after they’ve spent years working in a job or a state where Social Security taxes were withheld.

Others may have taught in a state where teachers do participate in Social Security. For example, teachers in my town, which is divided between the states of Arkansas and Texas, could qualify for both.

If they worked in Arkansas (where teachers do participate in Social Security) for at least 10 years and then taught in Texas (where teachers don’t participate in Social Security), they would qualify for both Social Security and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

How to Understand Your Social Security Benefit If You Worked in Both

This may surprise you but your Social Security statement does not reflect any reduction in benefits due to your teacher’s pension. They’ll wait until you file to tell you what the reduction is if you qualify for both a teacher’s retirement and Social Security benefits.

Understanding if a reduction in benefits will apply to you, and how much that will be, does not have to wait until you file for Social Security. You can get a good idea today by understanding the key differences between the two rules which may reduce your benefit amount:

From a very high level, you should understand that the WEP rule only applies to individuals who are eligible for a Social Security benefit based on their own work history and have a pension from work where they did not pay Social Security tax.

Meanwhile, the GPO rule only applies to individuals who are entitled to a Social Security benefit as a survivor or spouse and have a pension from a Federal, state, or local government job, in which they did not pay Social Security tax.

Here’s a look at how each rule would impact your benefit.

Understanding the Windfall Elimination Provision

The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is simply a recalculation of your Social Security benefit if you also have a pension from “non-covered” work where no Social Security taxes were paid. The normal Social Security calculation formula is substituted with a new calculation that results in a lower benefit amount.

It would be easy to write a multipage essay on the WEP, but the necessary components can be distilled to a few simple points:

  • The maximum Social Security reduction will never be greater than one half of your pension amount. This is capped at a monthly reduction of $480 maximum WEP reduction (for 2020).
  • If you have more than 20 years of substantial covered earnings (where you paid Social Security tax), the impact of the WEP begins to diminish. At 30 years of substantial covered earnings, the WEP does not apply.
WEP Penalty declines with substantial earnings

Image Source: Devin Carroll, Data: Social Security Administration

This phase-out of the WEP reduction offers a great planning opportunity if you have worked at a job where you paid Social Security tax. For example, if you worked as an engineer for 20 years before you began teaching, you may be able to do enough part time work between now and when you retire to completely eliminate the monthly WEP reduction.

Would it be worth it? If you consider how much more in benefits you could receive over your retirement lifetime, it could be worth $100,000 in extra income over a 20-year retirement.

Obviously, not everyone has the option of accumulating enough years to wipe out the big monthly WEP reduction. But for those who do, or can get close, it’s worth taking a closer look.

Substantial Earnings for exemption from WEP
Substantial Earnings for exemption from WEP

For more information on the Windfall Elimination Provision, see these helpful resources:

What About the Government Pension Offset?

The nitty-gritty of the Government Pension Offset (GPO) is simple. If you meet both of requirements for the GPO – you are entitled to a Social Security benefit as a survivor or spouse and have a pension from a government job where you did not pay Social Security tax – your Social Security survivor or spousal benefit will be reduced by an amount equal to two-thirds (2/3) of your pension.

As an example, let’s say Michael worked for 30 years as a teacher in California (one of the 15 states where schoolteachers are not covered by Social Security) and his wife was an accountant.

Upon retirement, he began receiving his California teacher’s retirement pension of $3,000 per month. His wife retired at the same time and filed for her Social Security benefits of $2,300 per month. Sadly, she passed away a short three years later.

Upon her death, Michael learned that because of his CalSTRS pension he would not be eligible to receive a normal Social Security survivor’s benefit. Thanks to the GPO his survivor’s benefit was reduced to a measly $300 per month. Here’s the math:

Social Security Government Pension Offset Example with CalSTRS pension

Source: Devin Carroll

Some would say that’s not fair and I think they have a compelling point. Why? In a case like this the GPO only applies because of Michael’s chosen profession. This is effectively a penalty for teaching (what some call the hero’s penalty).

If he had been a pharmacist instead of working in education, he would have been eligible to receive the full $2,200 per month.

If you’d like to dig into the Governement Pension Offset a little deeper, see my article on What You Should Know About the Government Pension Offset.

If You Only Qualify for a Teacher’s Retirement System Pension

If you have never paid Social Security tax and only qualify for your teacher’s retirement, it’s likely you’ll never receive a Social Security benefit.

Although this makes perfect sense to some, others think it’s still pretty unfair that this isn’t true for everyone. For example, if you had chosen to stay at home as the household manager, you would not have paid into the Social Security system. However, you would be eligible for spousal and survivor benefits.

These intricate Social Security regulations and how differently they may affect a worker’s retirement income make it critical that you plan ahead and prepare. Before you make your elections on your teacher’s pension, you must consider how your monthly cash flow would change with a spouse’s death.

As a teacher, you have plenty to keep up with and these complex rules on Social Security don’t make it any easier. That’s why it’s important to have a quick and easy source of information at your disposal so can make the best decisions for you and your family.

What to Do If You Still Have Questions

If you have questions, you could leave a comment below, but what may be an even greater help is to join my FREE Facebook members group. It’s very active and has some really smart people who love to answer any questions you may have about Social Security. From time to time I’ll even drop in to add my thoughts, too. 

You should also consider joining the 100,000+ subscribers on my YouTube channel! For visual learners (as most of us are), this is where I break down the complex rules and help you figure out how to use them to your advantage. 

And don’t leave without getting your FREE copy of my Social Security Cheat Sheet. This is where I took the most important stuff from the 100,000 page website and condensed it down to just ONE PAGE! Get your FREE copy here.

the heros penalty book about wep and gpo
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Roxanne Chinn
Roxanne Chinn
3 months ago

Looking for clarification: I’m a CA retired teacher with a pension (currently 64 years old and preparing for Medicare next year), I have accumulated 40 SS quarters mainly from various jobs prior to, I believe that I cannot receive ANY SS benefits at all. Am I correct?

Betty Krejci
Betty Krejci
4 months ago

In 2004, when I retired from teaching(29 years), I worked 1 day in a TX district that did pay social security. This work day was suppose to fill a “loop hole” in the Texas and SS law at the time to allow me to collect SS benefits. My husband is 66 and I am 68. He has applied for social security. Am I entitled to half of his benefits? I need a quarter to qualify on my own but was hoping to qualify as half of his benefit. I paid a lawyer to do paperwork for me in 2004. I… Read more »

Tim Wahl
Tim Wahl
4 months ago

SSA offices are closed. Impossible to connect with them by phone. I am retiring from teacher in mid June. Presently receive SS benefits and Medicare A, BUT must inform them of my retirement fro teaching for sake of WEP and for me to start receiving the mandatory part B (with fee deducted from remnants of SS benefits). How can I notify them of the upcomingchanges?

BobPolicy
BobPolicy
4 months ago

Does the GPO change if the surviving spouse (teacher) also earned 40 social security quarters in another job aside from the teacher job?

Charles Duran
Charles Duran
6 months ago

I am 66 years old and still working as a teacher before teaching I was a graphic designer and paid into social security. Will I be entitled to my benefits if I apply for social security benefits?

Cristi Langlotz
Cristi Langlotz
6 months ago

My deceased husband passed away 3 years ago and I want to remarry to this amazing man . However I get from the Teacher’s retirement system every month will getting remarried affect that?

Susan Pagel
Susan Pagel
6 months ago

If I was married to a rx teacher for 38 yrs but divorced do to his being a sex offender. Are there any spousal benefits for me? He draws a lot more than I do in social security.

Brian
Brian
6 months ago

Thank the Ronald Reagan years for these absurd laws penalizing teachers,etc. My brother ,who worked for SS, always said there is a zero chance they will ever be repealed(has been tried but goes nowhere) because the government just makes so much money off of it they would not give it up.

Judy
Judy
6 months ago

I worked 1985-1995 in business and paid into SS for 40 quarters. I have been teaching from 1996-present and paying into Mass Teachers Retirement System. My late husband (died in October 2011) worked in business from 1985-2011 and paid into SS. I am 59 years old and plan to retire at 65 yo.

How will the WEP and GOP impact me? What is my best strategy to maximize my benefits at retirement?

Barry Barton
Barry Barton
7 months ago

I hope that a website with ‘intelligence’ in its name will correct the information concerning Texas. There are several school districts that participate in Social Security as well as TRS, including my own, Austin.

Jimmie L Bellah
Jimmie L Bellah
8 months ago

I worked at jobs where I paid social security and earned my quarters. I then went to work teaching and hope to retire after 20 years paying into TRS. I just became eligible for Social Security widow benefits. Will this be penalized with the windfall provision. I heard if I wait until I’m 70 to retire on TRS that my Social Security would not be penalized. Is this true?

Leslie
Leslie
8 months ago

Teaching is second career. I worked in finance and paid into SS for 20+ years. My question is…my husband passes away and I’m over 60 and I continue to teach. Can I receive his benefits and still teach?

Joyce
Joyce
8 months ago

I will not be able to recieve one dime of my late husbands social security because l got my own job teaching. So $2,200 a month goes … where? Not to me. Not fair that two independant pensions , cancel each other out. Time to petition our elected officials.

Marivel Rodriguez
Marivel Rodriguez
8 months ago

My mom has been a paraprofessional in Texas for 28 years. My dad elected for early SS benefits at 62. What is the best scenario for her to receive her TRS & spousal support?

Laurie Merrick
Laurie Merrick
8 months ago

Who can we speak with to get these rules changed?

L B Powell
L B Powell
8 months ago

After a lifetime paying SS from a variety of positions to include the military, I worked a relatively low paying admin job in higher ed for 18 years accumulating 60G in TRS pension. I retired last year at 62 and will accrue 72G from my small TRS pension over the next 8 years before applying for SS. After that the pension will net only $250 a month above my SS. The trick in my case was to retire, early collect the TRS pension for as long as possible before applying for SS.

Deb
Deb
9 months ago

I paid into SS for 30 years prior to teaching. Because I did not meet the “substantial earnings” criteria for 20 TWENTY of those years I get a 50% reduction. I had 4 years of substantial earnings, because I worked part =-time and raised our children. I went back to college, got my degree, and started teaching and no one said anything about getting my SS reduced. What a farce.
On the upside, however, I retired after 17 years of teaching and my retirement from PSRS is more than my entire SS check would have been. There is that.

Catla Rhodrn
Catla Rhodrn
9 months ago

I am so confuse

Melanie Yaufman
Melanie Yaufman
10 months ago

Boy is this all confusing AND so unfair…….. I worked 20 years in banking, 10 years of retail…and the last 19 years as a para educator , not making enough to live on (thank God I have a spouse)……. Now I am being told I will be penalized because 19 years I have been paying into SER (10% of my small salary) and not social security…. so really what I have in SERS pension will be subtracted from social security…. SO UNFAIR…. makes me even madder with those who abuse welfare…they get paid for life for not working at all…and… Read more »

Cathey E Schrader
Cathey E Schrader
10 months ago

I worked 25 years in education in the state of Missouri. I have also worked for 25 years and I am still working paying in SS. After Medicare is paid, I receive only $220.00 of my SS. I tried to draw my widow’s benefits at 62 and was told I was ineligible for this.

Ruben
Ruben
10 months ago

Had I known SS rules l would have started collecting at 62 years of age even if it would be stripped from me once l started getting my trs pension 3 years later. At least 700 dollars after penalty for early retirement SS. That’s $8,400 a extra money per year. That’s $25,200 dollars for the 3 years. Now because of WEP I’ll only receive approx. $90 per month SS plus my trs pension.

Sherrie
Sherrie
11 months ago

I agree that this is unfair to those who have put in their quarters to social security and just because they chose.to teach their social security is split in half. This is discrimination. It is amazing to me that those who pass these laws never pass them for themselves. Pure discrimination, no other word for it!

Bill
Bill
11 months ago

Devin,

My wife cashed out her Texas TRS account many years ago (I believe around 1982). It was fairly small dollars which is why we cashed it out.

I’m now 58 and am contemplating retirement in the next several years. Can you offer any guidance on how to determine if the GPO will impact her spousal benefits? She has not worked enough on her own record to claim a retirement benefit.

Any help you can provide is appreciated.

-Bill

William Martisius
William Martisius
1 year ago

This is all about incentives. What’s the motivation for brings years of life skills into the classroom?

Donald Helmly
Donald Helmly
1 year ago

My girlfriend worked for The City of Jacksonville, FL. Her husband passed away, she is now retired, and collecting her pension, but she didn’t pay into SS. Because of the pension plan. Can she collect SS from her dead husbands account??

Curtis
Curtis
1 year ago

Hi – wow, confusion…in our case my wife worked for 15 years in the CA school system, so did not contribute to SS…however now we have been in AZ for the last three years here she pays into SS AND is eligible for the AZ teacher pension…will the years of not contributing to SS in CA preclude her from collecting SS ?
Thanks

Brian
Brian
1 year ago

I am 55 years old and have more than 30 years of earnings from which I paid into Social Security through private employment. My wife is retiring after 30 years of employment with a local school district and we are trying to make the most prudent decision about her retirement benefit payments. If she dies prematurely after electing a JOINT ANNUITY OPTION, will I still receive the full amount of my survivor benefit from her election? Or will my Social Security potentially be reduced because I receive survivor benefits from her TRS annuity? Thank you.

steve
steve
1 year ago

Way to confusing for me. My question. I am a member of TRS where we DID pay into SS. One of the few districts that do. I plan on retiring in 2 years at 54 drawing my TRS retirement. I had planned on taking SS benefits at my earliest possible time, 62. Will i not get SS or not eligible, even though I have paid into SS since I was 16 years old? Or am i going to be such a reduced amount because of pension.

Don Stowers
Don Stowers
1 year ago

This so-called “double-dipping” law is absurd. It penalizes people unfairly. Why should government pensions be treated any differently from those in the private sector? If you can draw from a traditional pension plan and Social Security, what not TRS and Social Security? It doesn’t make sense. It’s simply an attempt by the government entities to keep more and distribute less. The law should be repealed.

Julie
Julie
1 year ago

Texas has some districts that are covered by both SS and TRS.

Sharon Smith
Sharon Smith
1 year ago

If I have been eligible to draw TRS but have not done so, will my Social Security benefits be modified or worse? I was drawing my wife’s portion of SS benefits for about three years. After that, I began drawing my own SS. I have not applied for TRS because I have only eight years in TRS. I am planning to return to work soon. I received a letter from SS along with a “Modified Benefit Formula Questionnaire.”

Thank you!

Liz
Liz
1 year ago

I am unclear about something. If my husband worked at the schools for 27 years and has passed away three months ago am I eligible for Social Security even though he had TRS

Janine
Janine
1 year ago

Rachel, I have worked my adult life and my husband worked. I get less SS than you do and no teaching benefit, because I was not a teacher. I only get $225 a month from my husband’s benefits because he passed away. Quit complaining. I get $1100 a month and I’m 72. Learn to pinch pennies and eat less. I have a ton of doctor bills, but pay for supplemental insurance for Medicare and pay for my 15 meds I take daily. Your doctors should accept Medicare. Everyone knows you became eligible for Medicare at 65.

Sarah Sue
Sarah Sue
1 year ago

I I have 17 years in as a teacher and take retire from teaching. Can I collect Social Security if I continue to work in a different field?

Rachel
Rachel
2 years ago

I paid into SS for 21 years, my ex 30 years, I returned to work later in life, and my pension was only for ten years, my SS is only 225 and if I get a cola increase , it goes down, I cannot get my ex spouse because if Gov. offset, How do you live off 1200 a month? I am now 70 and can,t afford Dr. bills! I make 200 too much to get Medicaid, thanks Ga. for destroying my retirement! Repeal this unfair act! Why go into teaching , it destroyed my SS.

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