Q. I was in the Air Force from 1970 to 1974, then worked as a federal employee until July 1999, when I took a reduction in force with penalty and early retirement. In 1983 when FERS was formed, I stayed in CSRS and was told if I bought my military time back, my Social Security would not be affected.

In reality, I took a large penalty from CSRS and due to the windfall elimination provision, I lost all Social Security but $264 per month. I think I have 42 quarters paid in. I bought back my military time (basically the first 18 months of pay) so that I would not be penalized. Now I am being penalized by both CSRS and Social Security.

A. If your early retirement occurred before you reached age 55, your CSRS annuity would have been reduced by 2 percent for every year you were under that age (1/6 percent per month). Because you are receiving an annuity from CSRS, a retirement system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes and had fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security, you were subject to the windfall elimination provision. Both of these reductions were required by law. What’s unfortunate is that you were mistakenly told that your Social Security benefit wouldn’t be affected if you bought back your active-duty service.


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Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to


  1. Elaine Lumsden on

    That answer is not completely correct. A CSRS annuity reduced for age is reduced at the rate of 2% per year or 1/6 of one percent for every month under the age of 55 with that penalty for life. The 5% penalty applies to FERS MR+10 age reduction. And the reason this person was advised properly to make the military deposit was to retain his 4 years of military service credit in the computation of his CSRS annuity once he became SSA eligible, this is called Catch-62.

  2. I’m a veteran, so is it good for me not to buy back my military service years or not. This is very troubling for me to think that I would be penalized. What do I do ? This is totally unfair to those service members who served there country faithfully and have granted the option buying back time only to be told its going to hurt you in the future when your ready to retire.

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