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Howard Kossover: Pensions usually don’t affect Social Security earnings

Q: I work for a city government and keep hearing that my city pension will lower my Social Security amount when I retire. Is this true?

A: Not necessarily. What matters is if you pay Social Security tax from your city wages. The general rule is that pensions do not affect SSA benefits because most employment is covered by Social Security.

The relatively few exceptions are usually pensions from government employment not covered by Social Security. A government pension from work covered by Social Security does not affect benefits.

Not covered by Social Security means you did not pay Social Security payroll tax on those earnings, you did not earn coverage for SSA benefits and those earnings do not appear on your SSA work record.

Employment at federal, state or local government levels, including school districts, can be involved.

The Windfall Elimi-nation Provision (WEP) applies when the SSA benefit is based on the person’s own work record, so to be insured they likely had work other than the government employment.

Enacted in the Social Security Amendments of 1983, the WEP provides a different formula for calculating SSA amounts.

While not a direct offset or reduction against the Social Security amount, the WEP formula results in a lower amount than otherwise would be received.

Overall, the WEP reduction in the SSA benefit cannot be more than one-half of the amount of the pension from work not covered by Social Security taxes.

The Government Pen-sion Offset (GPO) is involved when the Social Security benefits are through someone else’s record.

The GPO affects SSA benefits to a spouse, widow or widower and is a direct offset by the government pension against Social Security benefits.

The GPO reduces the amount of a SSA spouse, widow or widower’s benefits by two-thirds of the amount of the government pension and can offset the total Social Security benefit.

This is a very brief answer. Exceptions apply to both WEP and GPO. The general rule is that pensions do not affect SSA benefits because most employment is covered by Social Security.

More information is available at the Social Security website, See the Retirement Planner section at

Based in Grand Forks, Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Send general interest questions to him at Read his online articles at