Why I do what I do!

Over the last 10+ years I’ve been privileged to work with many CPA’s and Financial Advisors in consulting with their clients on Social Security claiming decisions.  I find these consultations extremely enjoyable and rewarding and a great opportunity to use the talents I’ve been entrusted with on my Back 9 Journey.  This last month 2 cases come to mind the really resonate as to why I continue this service.

Last summer Freida lost her husband of 47 years, she went to SSA in hopes of claiming survivorship benefits.  She was told by a clerk that she did not qualify for survivorship benefits since she was receiving a TRS pension (pension from a job where she did not pay Social Security taxes).  Unwilling to take no for an answer she went in and called SSA on several occasions, only to be told the same thing over and over again.  Freida reached out to a friend about her dilemma.  Her friend was a client of mine and I had run an analysis for her several years ago, and she suggested Frieda to call me.

Will you receive a pension from a job where you did not pay FICA taxes?

Most schoolteachers in Texas, firefighters and police will or are receiving pensions from jobs where they did not pay Social Security taxes, thus they are subjected to the WEP (Windfall Elimination Provision) or the GPO (Government Pension Offset).  The WEP comes into play where a worker will receive a pension, but they also had outside employment where they did pay FICA taxes and do qualify on their own record for Social Security benefits.  In a nutshell their Social Security benefits are reduced but are not totally eliminated (will save that for another newsletter).  In Freida’s case she did not qualify for Social Security benefits on her own record, since she did not have 40 quarters of earnings, thus the GPO was in play.

GPO calculation

One must take 2/3 of their pension and subtract it from their projected spousal benefits.  If the spouse (workers record) is still alive they would normally be recipients of 50% of their spouses PIA (check at FRA), but upon their death they would qualify for 100% of whatever the worker was receiving at the time of death.  In Frieda’s case her TRS pension was $1400 / mo.  ($1,400 x 2/3 = $935 reduction).  Her deceased husbands benefits at time of death was $1,900 / mo. – $935 = $965 survivorship benefits.  I advised Frieda of this fact, armed her SSA documentation as to GPO formula and instructed her to go back into SSA and ask for a supervisor.  I also told her to request 6 months retroactive benefits to the date that she initially claimed benefits, back to the date of her husband’s death.

Frieda’s Note to Me


Thank you for the help & advice you gave me recently on getting Social Security benefits after my husband’s death in August.  I visited the Social Security in McKinney (as well as phone calls and did not get anything done) and showed them a copy of the Government Pension Offset.  It took a while but finally someone in the office understood my dilemma.  I did end up receiving retroactive money and a set amount each month, not as much as I hoped, but at least enough for me to “make do.”  Again, thank you, I am sorry this $100 is all I have as I am behind financially.  You offered me hope & help when everyone else was telling me I would get no money, so I truly appreciate you.

Death of Deceased Ex Spouse

Frank who is single was referred to me by a San Antonio CPA, he is 68 years old still working and planning to continue to postpone claiming Social Security benefits until age 70.  One of questions on my questionnaire is, were you married in the past and how long did the marriage last.  In Frank’s case he was married for 14 years, and they got divorced back in 2012.  They kept in touch thus he was aware of her death 6 years ago.

Good News – Bad News

In Frank’s case since he did not remarry prior to age 60 he was eligible for survivorship benefits on his deceased ex-spouse, at the time of her death, however since he was still working at age 62 he was ineligible to receive survivorship benefits due to the Earnings Test (lose $1 for every $2 you make above $21,240 ((2023)).  However, the Earnings Test is no longer in play once you reach your FRA (66 – 67).  The Good News is that Frank is now collecting $2,000 per month for the next 2 years and he collected $12,000 of retroactive benefits.  The Bad News since you can only go back retroactively 6 months, thus he lost $36,000 in benefits.  I told him he should have called me 2 years ago!

WARNING: Social Security does not notify you, nor do they know if your ex-spouse(s) died.  Thus, you need to keep track of ex-spouses (read obituaries) and then go to SSA with a copy of your marriage certificate and divorce decree in order to claim survivorship benefits.

In Conclusion

In Frank’s case he really didn’t need the money, but it was definitely welcome, however in Frieda’s case as you read in her note it is the difference between living in dignity or struggling to just get by.

I’ve been truly blessed and do not need to work from a financial perspective, but I realized I needed a reason to get up every day besides golf, leisure, traveling, etc.  I needed a PURPOSE and as my doctor told me several years ago, that his patients who retired to the couch and Fox News or the golf course didn’t last as long and had more health problems than those who continued working (PHASED RETIREMENT) or were actively involved in Civic and or Charitable endeavors.

Happy Spring,

Dave Zander, CFP®
MLS# 1603774