Dear Rusty: I retired from a municipal Fire Department seven years ago at the age of 54. It is a private pension, and I was exempt from Social Security while I was working. I receive about $50,000 per year in pension benefits. I recently got a letter from Social Security saying I needed eight more credits of work to qualify for Social Security benefits. I was wondering if I worked two more years, paying into Social Security, would I qualify for benefits, since I am on a municipal pension? Signed: Retired Fireman
Dear Retired Fireman: Although your municipal Fire Department pension would reduce your Social Security benefit, it will not eliminate it. So, if you work and earn those additional eight credits you will be entitled to a Social Security benefit.
Because of your non-covered municipal pension your Social Security benefit will be affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which affects anyone who has a pension from an employer which did not participate in Social Security (neither the employee nor the employer paid into Social Security). WEP uses a special benefit computation formula which will result in you getting a smaller benefit, but you will, nevertheless, get some benefit amount if you have accumulated at least 40 quarters of Social Security credit. Note that your SS benefit amount will be further reduced if you claim it at age 62, or any age prior to your full retirement age.
You earn Social Security credits by working in a job where you pay FICA payroll taxes on your earnings, and you can earn a maximum of four SS credits per year. For 2020, you’ll earn one credit for each $1,410 of earnings, up to a maximum of four credits for the year, but you don’t need to work the entire year to get the credits. For example, if you work yet in 2020 and earn $5,640 (4 times $1,410) you’ll earn the maximum four credits for this year.
You need a total of 40 quarter credits to become eligible for Social Security, and those credits never expire, so even old credits earned before your Fire Department career still count. And, even if small, this would be a benefit you have earned by contributing to Social Security, so there’s little reason not to pursue it by gaining the needed additional credits.
Russell Gloor is an Association of Mature American Citizens certified social security advisor. To submit a question, visit amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisoryor email email@example.com.