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Social Security

As a California public school educator, you do not pay into Social Security, so you will not receive Social Security benefits for your CalSTRS-covered position.

If you expect to receive a Social Security check through your spouse or other employment, two federal rules—the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset—could leave you with a smaller Social Security check or no check at all.

Your CalSTRS retirement benefit will not be reduced by these rules.

Important things to consider 

If you are receiving Social Security now, your Social Security benefit may be reduced or eliminated when you begin receiving your CalSTRS benefit. Let the Social Security Administration know when you are planning to retire so that your Social Security benefit can be adjusted. Otherwise, you will have to repay any excess Social Security benefits you receive once you begin receiving your CalSTRS benefit.

If you take a refund, your Social Security benefit may still be subject to offset.

Your annual Social Security statement is based on your projected income and may not accurately reflect the impact of the offsets.

When you receive your annual benefit adjustment each year, contact the Social Security Administration. Your Social Security benefit may need to be adjusted.

You can calculate the potential impact of these provisions online or contact the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.

Government Pension Offset 

The Government Pension Offset affects your spousal, widow or widower Social Security benefits that are based on your spouse’s earnings.

Under this rule, your Social Security benefit will be reduced by two-thirds of your CalSTRS retirement benefit. If two-thirds of your CalSTRS benefit exceeds the amount of your spousal benefit from Social Security, you will not receive a Social Security check. If your Social Security spousal benefit is higher than two-thirds of your CalSTRS benefit, you’ll receive the difference.

If you were eligible for CalSTRS benefits between December 1982 and June 1983 and were entitled to the Social Security spousal benefit before December 1977, you’re exempt from the Government Pension Offset.

Due to the complexity of Social Security law and the formulas used in determining Social Security benefits, contact a Social Security representative to determine if these provisions or exceptions apply to your individual situation. In addition, your benefit estimate from Social Security may be overstated because non-Social Security pensions such as CalSTRS are not considered in the estimate.

Windfall Elimination Provision 

The Windfall Elimination Provision affects your Social Security benefits that are based on your earnings. The rule may reduce your Social Security benefit, but it will not eliminate it.

Social Security benefits are based on your average monthly earnings over a 35-year period, adjusted for inflation. When Social Security determines your benefits, it separates your average earnings into three amounts and multiplies the amounts using three different factors. For example, if you turned 62 in 2021, the first $996 of your average monthly earnings would be multiplied by 90%, while the earnings from $997 to $6,002 would be multiplied by 32%, and any remainder by 15%.

If you’re also eligible for a CalSTRS retirement benefit, the 90% factor is reduced to 40%. The exact amount of the reduction is based on your years of substantial earnings covered under Social Security and adjusted every year. The maximum reduction in Social Security benefits under the Windfall Elimination Provision is $498 per month if you were age 62 in 2021.

If you earned at least 40 Social Security credits through other employment, you should apply for Social Security, even though you may receive a reduced Social Security benefit. You’re exempt from the Windfall Elimination Provision if you were eligible to retire from CalSTRS before January 1, 1986, or if you have 30 or more years of substantial earnings under employment covered by Social Security. In 2021, substantial earnings were $26,550 annually. With 21 to 29 years of substantial earnings, the 90% factor is reduced on a sliding scale beginning at 45% for 21 years up to 85% for 29 years.

Additional information about the Windfall Elimination Provision is available at SSA.gov.