Your Social Security retirement or disability benefits may be reduced

When your benefits may be affected

Why a different formula is used

How it works

Some exceptions...

...and a guarantee

Contacting Social Security


Your Social Security retirement or disability benefits may be reduced

If you work for an employer who does not withhold Social Security taxes from your salary, such as a government agency or an employer in another country, any pension you get based on that work may reduce your Social Security benefits.

The Windfall Elimination Provision affects how the amount of your retirement or disability benefits is calculated if you receive a pension from work where Social Security taxes were not taken out of your pay. A modified formula is used to calculate your benefit amount, resulting in a lower Social Security benefit than you otherwise would receive.

When your benefits may be affected

The Windfall Elimination Provision primarily affects you if you earned a pension in any job where you did not pay Social Security taxes and you also worked in other jobs long enough to qualify for a Social Security retirement or disability benefit.

For example, this provision affects Social Security benefits when any part of a person’s federal service after 1956 is covered under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). However, federal service where Social Security taxes are withheld (Federal Employees’ Retirement System) will not reduce your Social Security benefit amounts.

The Windfall Elimination Provision may apply if:

  • you reached 62 after 1985; or
  • you became disabled after 1985; and
  • you first became eligible for a monthly pension based on work where you did not pay Social Security taxes after 1985, even if you are still working.

Why a different formula is used? 

Social Security benefits are intended to replace only a percentage of a worker’s pre-retirement earnings. The way Social Security benefit amounts are figured, lower-paid workers get a higher return than highly paid workers. For example, lower-paid workers could get a Social Security benefit that equals about 55 percent of their pre-retirement earnings. The average replacement rate for highly paid workers is about 25 percent.

Before 1983, people who worked mainly in a job not covered by Social Security had their Social Security benefits calculated as if they were long-term, low-wage workers. They had the advantage of receiving a Social Security benefit representing a higher percentage of their earnings, plus a pension from a job where they did not pay Social Security taxes. Congress passed the Windfall Elimination Provision to remove that advantage.

How it works

Social Security benefits are based on the worker’s average monthly earnings adjusted for inflation. Social Security separates your average earnings into three amounts and multiplies the amounts using three factors. For example, for a worker who turns 62 in 2013, the first $791 of average monthly earnings is multiplied by 90 percent; the next $3,977 by 32 percent; and the remainder by 15 percent. The sum of the three amounts equals the total monthly payment amount.

The 90 percent factor is reduced in the modified formula and phased in for workers who reached age 62 or became disabled between 1986 and 1989. For those who reach 62 or became disabled in 1990 or later, the 90 percent factor is reduced to 40 percent.

There are exceptions to this rule. For example, the 90 percent factor is not reduced if you have 30 or more years of “substantial” earnings in a job where you paid Social Security taxes. See the first table that lists the amount of substantial earnings for each year.

The second table shows the percentage used depending on the number of years of substantial earnings. If you have 21 to 29 years of substantial earnings, the 90 percent factor is reduced to between 45 and 85 percent.

To see the maximum amount your benefit could be reduced, visit the Retirement Planner.

YearSubstantial earningsYearSubstantial earnings
1937-54$9001990$9,525
1955-58$1,0501991$9,900
1959-65$1,2001992$10,350
1966-67$1,6501993$10,725
1968-71$1,9501994$11,250
1972$2,2501995$11,325
1973$2,7001996$11,625
1974$3,3001997$12,150
1975$3,5251998$12,675
1976$3,8251999$13,425
1977$4,1252000$14,175
1978$4,4252001$14,925
1979$4,7252002$15,750
1980$5,1002003$16,125
1981$5,5502004$16,275
1982$6,0752005$16,725
1983$6,6752006$17,475
1984$7,0502007$18,150
1985$7,4252008$18,975
1986$7,8752009-2011$19,800
1987$8,1752012$20,475
1988$8,4002013$21,075
1989$8,925  
Years of substantial earningsPercentage
30 or more90%
2985%
2880%
2775%
2670%
2565%
2460%
2355%
2250%
2145%
20 or less40%

Some exceptions...

The Windfall Elimination Provision does not apply if:

  • you are a federal worker first hired after December 31, 1983;
  • you were employed on December 31, 1983, by a nonprofit organization that did not withhold Social Security taxes from your pay at first, but then began withholding Social Security taxes from your pay;
  • your only pension is based on railroad employment;
  • the only work you did where you did not pay Social Security taxes was before 1957; or
  • you have 30 or more years of substantial earnings under Social Security.

The Windfall Elimination Provision does not apply to survivors' benefits. However, benefits may be reduced for widows or widowers because of another provision of the law. Contact us for the publication, Government Pension Offset .

...and a guarantee

If you get a relatively low pension, you are protected. The reduction in your Social Security benefit cannot be more than one-half of the amount of your pension that is based on earnings after 1956 on which you did not pay Social Security taxes.

Contacting Social Security

Our website is a valuable resource for information about all of Social Security’s programs. There are a number of things you can do online.

In addition to using our website, you can call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. We treat all calls confidentially. We can answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Generally, you’ll have a shorter wait time if you call during the week after Tuesday. We can provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day. (You can use our automated response system to tell us a new address or request a replacement Medicare card.) If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

We also want to make sure you receive accurate and courteous service. That is why we have a second Social Security representative monitor some telephone calls.