Illinois Family Law: Retirement Options for Teachers in Illinois

Rincker Law Family/Matrimonial Law 6 Comments

Retirement issues can be confusing, especially when there is a pension involved and one spouse has Social Security benefits. It is up to each state to decide whether (and which) government employees would be covered by Social Security. Therefore, a state could choose for teachers to participate in Social Security even if they are covered by a stand-alone retirement plan (such as TRS).

Illinois is one of 15 states that do not participate in Social Security for teachers. Thus, teachers in Illinois do not pay Social Security taxes. If a teacher has other employment, through which they do participate in Social Security though, the Social Security benefit is diluted by the Teachers’ Retirement System (“TRS”) pension.

Until 1986, all teachers were allowed to collect both their TRS benefits and Social Security benefits earned from other jobs. This resulted in the Windfall Elimination Act (“WEP”), which was enacted by Congress in 1986. WEP lowered Social Security benefits for retired TRS members unless the teacher acquired 30 years of “substantial earnings” from another job. This means that they had to hold a second full-time job.

Similarly, Congress also passed the Government Pension Offset, which addresses teachers participating in the TRS from receiving benefits as a “dependent” spouse. This is for spouses, widows, or widowers. Under the GPO, the benefit to the TRS member-spouse is reduced from the benefit the member could have been expected to receive from a spouse’s Social Security.

For instance, Social Security benefits to a spouse will be reduced by two-thirds of the TRS benefit. When spouses of teachers are alive, the teachers are only allowed to receive 50% of the spouses’ Social Security benefit. However, usually the TRS pension is higher than 50% of their spouse’s Social Security benefit so they will not end up receiving Social Security. If the teacher-spouse is a widow/widower, though, the teacher-spouse is entitled to all of the deceased spouse’s benefit, but only if it is larger than their own TRS benefit.

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Comments 6

  1. My mother is an Illinois teacher retiree who is in the TRS. When her husband passed 3 yrs ago, she got money from his SS benefits. She insisted that she couldn’t take them so she fought with SSA to return the money.

    I still believe she had rights to his benefits. How can I find out if she should have kept this money?
    Thank you

  2. My mother had taken care of and claimed my son from 2006 until her death in 2018 though he wasnt legally adopted should he be receiving some type of TRS benifits?

  3. My wife is a teacher in Illinois and we live in iowa. I am collecting social security as I am older than her. Should I die is she entitled to my social security? She will be retiring in 4 more years at 60 years old.

  4. Hello-my sister is an Illinios teacher and is currently going through a divorce. She would like her and her ex to each retain their own retirement accounts. However, he wants to have access to her TRS pension. (He is proposing splitting their retirement 50/50) However, we think if he has access to her TRS, then his Social Security should also be factored into the equation in addition to his 401k. What is the common practice for retirement and divorcing couples when one has a pension without SS and the other does have SS?

  5. My wife is retiring and will collect illinois teachers retirement pension for 10 years, then start collecting social security on my benefits. Will she have to pay back 2/3s of her teachers pension she collected for those 10 years that she didn’t collect social security under my ss benefits? Or does that start going forward on the day she starts receiving social security, and they do not go back and collect the 2/3s of the previous 10 years of payments?

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