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What is the Windfall Elimination Provision?

En español |  The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is a formula that can reduce the size of your Social Security retirement benefit if you receive a pension from a job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes. Such a “non-covered” pension might have been earned, for instance, by work for a state or local government agency that does not participate in FICA payroll-tax withholding.

If you collect such a pension, the WEP could reduce your Social Security benefit by up to half of the amount of your pension. (By law, it cannot eliminate your benefit entirely; Social Security sets maximums on the dollar amount, as detailed in its WEP Chart.) About 1.8 million people, or 3 percent of Social Security beneficiaries, are affected by the provision, according to a July 2018 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Congress approved the Windfall Elimination Provision in 1983 as part of a larger package of Social Security reforms (including an increase in the full retirement age). The intent was to remove an unintended advantage for workers who collect non-covered pensions (typically from government employment) but also did some "covered" work in jobs that paid into Social Security.

Because relatively little of their lifetime income was reflected in their Social Security earnings records, these workers benefited from Social Security’s progressive formula for figuring retirement payments, which is weighted in favor of low-wage workers. In other words, someone who collected a healthy government salary for decades received the same advantage in Social Security calculations as did a longtime low-income worker. The WEP eliminates this advantage by tweaking the formula for people also receiving non-covered pensions to reduce their retirement benefits.

Keep in mind

  • The WEP’s effect is proportional: The more years in which you had “substantial earnings” from Social Security–covered work, the less the provision cuts into your benefits. Social Security’s online WEP calculator can help you gauge the impact.
  • The Windfall Elimination Provision affects only Social Security retirement benefits. A separate rule, the Government Pension Offset, covers people who receive spousal or survivor benefits in addition to a non-covered government pension.  

Published October 10, 2018

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