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How to Reduce or Eliminate Windfall Elimination Provision Impact to Your Social Security Benefit

Basic WEP encryption mechanism

In prior articles we have discussed the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) which has the effect of reducing a portion of your Social Security retirement benefit if you’ve worked in a job that was not covered by Social Security which also provides a pension.  This article deals with two ways that you can remove the impact of the WEP from your benefit – neither of which is simple, and neither of which can be done after you’ve retired.

The two methods are:

  1. Add years of “substantial earnings” to your record
  2. Take a lump sum distribution from your pension before you are eligible to receive the pension.

Adding Substantial Earnings Years

If you have the opportunity to work in a job that is covered by Social Security withholding and you have “substantial earnings” from that job, each year that you work in this SS-covered job adds to your ability to begin eliminating the WEP impact.

This is not an insignificant undertaking.  Substantial earnings for 2013 is defined as $21,075 or more in earnings covered by Social Security, and this figure is adjusted annually by the Cost-of-Living increases.  Plus, it doesn’t make a difference on your WEP impact until you’ve added 21 or more years of substantial covered earnings to your record.

The good news is that if you have 30 or more years of substantial earnings in a Social Security-covered job, you’ll eliminate the WEP impact altogether.

Taking a Lump Sum Distribution of Your Pension

If you don’t have enough years with substantial earnings, there is another way that you can eliminate the impact of WEP, which again isn’t an insignificant thing to do.  If you have the ability to take a lump-sum distribution of your non-covered pension before you are eligible to receive the pension, you can eliminate WEP impact altogether.  By doing this you’ll forfeit any future pension that you might have received from the non-covered employer.

The timing on this has to be right – if you are eligible for the pension when you take the lump sum distribution, you’ll still have WEP impact.

For example, John is a teacher in a state in which teachers are not covered by Social Security and he works there long enough to build up a pension.  He decides to leave that state and go to another state where teachers are covered by Social Security.  He’s young enough that he is not yet eligible for the pension in the first state.  If he withdraws the entire pension from the first state and thereby forfeits all future claim to that pension, he will no longer have future WEP impact on his Social Security.  That is, unless he goes back to another non-Social-Security-covered job at a later point in his life.

Important points

It’s important to note that WEP impact only occurs if the pension is considered to be the primary retirement plan.  This is regardless of whether the pension is funded by the employee only, by a combination of employer and employee contributions, or solely by the employer.

If the plan is considered to be a supplemental plan (for example, as a 403(b) plan might be to a regular pension plan), then if the source of funds is solely from the employee, this plan will not produce a WEP impact.  In a case like this, the primary plan would likely produce the WEP impact anyhow, unless one of the options listed above is used to eliminate the impact.

In addition, payments from optional savings plans, such as the TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) for CSRS employees, are not considered as WEP-impacting pension payments.

If there are multiple sources of pension from the non-covered employer, only the applicable pension for WEP impact is considered when calculating the maximum WEP impact. This is because WEP impact can’t be more than 1/2 of the applicable pension amount.

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