What Every Woman Should Know About Social Security

Suze OrmanRetirement planning is especially challenging for women. We tend to live longer, and it’s not uncommon to have “off-ramped” from work at some point(s) to raise kids or care for a loved one. And because this affects lifetime earnings, it may also affect your eventual Social Security benefit. Don’t get me started on the gender wage gap.

Here’s what women need to understand about Social Security.

  1. You can claim a benefit based on your own work history, or you may be able to claim a benefit based on your spouse’s Social Security earnings record.
  2. You are eligible for Social Security if you have worked (and paid into the system) for 40 quarters, which is 10 years.
  3. Your benefit is based on the highest 35 years of earnings. That’s where working through your 60s might be helpful, if it knocks out some of your lower-income years from your benefit computation.
  4. If you are eligible for benefits based on your own work, and also benefits based on someone else’s work, such as your spouse, you will get your own benefit first. If the benefit you are eligible for based on someone else’s work is higher than your own, you will get a combination of the two that equals the higher amount.
  5.  If you were married at least 10 years before you divorced or if your marriage ended in death, you may be eligible to claim a benefit based on your former or deceased spouse’s Social Security record.

SSA does not endorse any particular financial advisory product or service.



50 thoughts on “What Every Woman Should Know About Social Security

  1. What is very sad is if you are a Widow, with no children, and still have the expenses of a two income home and are now a one income home and cannot draw from you spouses record until you are 60 years of age…that just does seem fair.

    • why do people think that ss is welfare it’s not and there are guide lines and if you don’t meet those guide lines don’t get mad that’s why you should vote and put in the politician that’s looking out for your interest they are the one who make the laws for ss and stop looking for handout prepare yourself for when you retire as for myself i started when i was in my 20’s and now I’m in my 60’s retired from the navy reserve and at&t at 56 plus holding off on my ss until 66 not worrying about if i don’t live that just thinking about if i do then life will be much easier or my wife will be okif i should pass in which my ss will be there for her,she is getting her ss now but that’s what wrong with people today they are all about self and now instead of planning for the future,when i was young i lived for the future if i didn’t make it so what but if i do great i’m now 64 and retired and my wife and i are living comfortable.

      • Well, “OD” – YOU are super lucky! You can do the right things, marriage, hard working, careers and carry insurance ALWAYS and every kind but guess what? Catastrophic accident or ILLNESS can hit at any time and wipe everything out – causing even the best preparations to fail. Don’t be snide, you never know what the future holds! SSA has rules including WAIT times which can deplete any savings …be prepared!

      • No one thinks its a hand out! My husband passed away and he worked hard many days of his life paying into SS . I, his widow, have every right to that money. What’s wrong here is the state has no right to
        keep it!!

      • Wow, OD you really sound proud. To proud to understand everyone’s situation is not like yours. If anything happened to you and the system denied your spouse your benefits, she may need the assistance of state or government then what would you think. It would have been nice to hear you offer some helpful advise for Tammie’s comment or not say anything at all….crickets.. crickets…

    • What if someone with no children gets divorced from their spouse and they are left with the expenses of a two income home and only have one income.

      Would it be Social Security’s job to pick up the tab? No, it would not be…..

      The rules in place are set by Congress, they set forth the 60 years of age minimum to be able to collect survivors benefits.

      Your complaints should be sent to your Congressman, the highest person in all of Social Security does not have the authority to change this rule. Your complaint should be given to them.

      Spouse’s pass away and also spouse’s get divorced from each other everyday. Couples go from two income households to one income households all the time.

  2. Question regarding #4 – If one is working at the time of death of spouse, will they continue to receive SS as spouse was receiving?

    Thank you for all your helpful information.

    • Good question! The amount of your widow or widower benefit is based on several factors, including: the earnings of the person who died, when the deceased worker started receiving their benefits, your age at the time of your spouse’s death, and the amount of your retirement benefits from your own work record. We compare your own benefit with your potential survivor benefit. If your survivor benefit would be higher than your own current retirement benefit at the time of your spouse’s passing, you would be eligible for survivor benefits.

      Typically, a widow or widower at full (survivors) retirement age or older generally receives 100% of the deceased worker’s amount, a widow or widower under full retirement age receives about 71 to 99 percent of the worker’s benefit amount, and a widow or widower with a child younger than age 16 receives 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount. However, there are other factors that could affect your benefit, such as earnings limits, and remarriage. For more information, visit our Survivor Planner webpage. Hope this helps!

  3. I plan to sell my home which is in my own living trust as the sole owner. When I sell it can I get the tax deduction on the gain as a couple or only by myself. (250,000 or 500,000) ? Please help!

    • Hi, Marie. Thanks for your question but unfortunately, we are not tax experts. For tax questions, you will need to contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Their toll-free number is 1-800-829-1040 or you can visit the IRS website. We hope this helps.

    • If you file as single, you will only get the 250,000 excludable gain. If you sell in the year that your husband passed away and you are filing jointly for that year, then you will get the $500,000 excludable (assuming of course, that this has been your primary residence for at least 2 of the last 5 years).

  4. Why is so hard to set up an account with SSA when we are living in a Country like Germany. When we give a Out of Country address as well as telephone number , the info on the inrollment page will not take the info.

    • Hi, Thomas. Unfortunately, you must have a U.S. mailing address to create a my Social Security account. However, you can contact your local Embassy or Consulate to find out information about your benefits. Thanks!

  5. It is important to distinguish between the rules for SS Retirement and SS Disability. For adults, work credits for Disability purposes must be current. (Generally, at least 20 of the last 40 quarters before the disability onset, with variations based on the age of the claimant.) As an attorney who has helped people with their SS Disability claims for more than 20 years, I have seen a lot of stay-at-home moms who are ineligible for SSD because they don’t have enough recent work credits. I am now also seeing baby-boomers leaving jobs before full retirement age to take care of their elderly parents, which also creates a risk that they won’t have sufficient credits if they become disabled themselves. People who work can earn up to 4 credits a year. The amount of wages/profit to earn 4 credits changes each year, but is not very much. Everyone should work enough each year to earn the 4 credits so that they are protected. Spouses don’t get the benefit of each other’s work history for Disability.

  6. what if you are remarried and your ex of 20 years makes more than your current spouse. Can you claim off your ex instead of your current spouse?

    • Hi, Shelia. Thanks for your question. Here are the requirements to receive benefits if you are divorced:
      • You are unmarried;
      • You are age 62 or older;
      • You were married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years;
      • Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits and,
      • The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work. This means that if you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record, we will pay that amount first. If the benefit on your spouse’s record is higher, you will get an additional amount on that record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount. For more information, check out our Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced webpage.

      We recommend that you read our publication, “What Every Woman Should Know” for more important information. Thanks

  7. I’m been working at lease 10years in this country I am became disable.ssa stop my ssi check they says my make too much money on March1,2017 my check stop l request for an appeal is dined.I aploy for retiment is dined ssa telling I have25 credit I need 40 credit ssa dined me all the benefits.now what I supose to do I 63 years old I have Health conditions.major depression bipolar Diabetes high blood pressure sleep desorder ptsd.in I am medication for phisical and mental issues please I need help.

    • LESLY FRANCOIS, before a person is 65, if they are found disabled by SSA they can receive SSI if they have little to no income and resources. Income more than $20 a month is counted against monthly SSI benefits. Based on what you stated, you earn too much to be eligible for SSI on financial criteria. If you do not receive SSI for 12 months, you have to file a new application.

      For those that are 65 or older, have less then 40 work credits, have little to no income and resources they may be eligible for SSI based on age.

      You may or may not be eligible for Medicaid in your state. You need to contact your State Medicaid Office. If you are not eligible for Medicaid, look for Free/Sliding Scale Clinics in your area and Teaching Hospitals.

    • Hi Donna. If you are divorced, but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record (even if they have remarried) if:
      •You are unmarried;
      •You are age 62 or older;
      •Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits and
      •The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.

  8. I am 68 years old and still working. I was married for 20 years and then divorced. When I turned 66, which was my SS age to collect full benefits, I, instead, opted to collect on my ex-spouse’s benefit, even though it is less than my own record. I am deferring my own benefit until I am no longer employed. Then I will switch and apply for my own benefit (you can’t collect on both), which will be slightly greater because of my deferment.

    At first, I thought, once you collect, you can not switch, but I did this at the suggestion of my social security office; they told me that I absolutely can defer my own; that there is no penalty because I have already reached full retirement age for social security. I think this will work out well for me, and thought to post this, should anyone else be in a similar circumstance.

  9. I had to retire at 62 before full retirement age of 66 because of bad health. My husband’s full ss amount is more than mine. If he predeceases me, can I choose to have his ss rather than keep mine? i am now 68 and he is 71. Neither of us is working.

    • Hi Cathy, if you’re getting benefits based on your own work, you will have to contact us. We’ll check to see if you can get more money as a widow. If so, you’ll get a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount. You must complete an application to switch to survivors benefits. Social Security uses the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount to calculate the percentage survivors can get. The percentage depends on the survivor’s age and relationship to the worker. If the worker who died was getting reduced benefits, we’ll base your survivor’s benefit on that amount. In most typical claims for benefits, a widow or widower, at full retirement age or older, generally gets 100 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount. We hope this information helps.

  10. So let me go over this.
    I was married for 27+years
    I divorced him.
    Was getting his SS.
    I remarried the man was police officer so I get nothing from him.
    I only get mine at a wonderful 300.00 a month.
    I was told that’s all I get since my ex is still living.

  11. my ex did our taxes every year and unbeknownst to me when he did them he declared almost no income for me some of the years and very low income for the others. We were married 24 years. I had no idea he was doing this because I did not understand how to file tax returns and he solely did them every year and then would shove the papers in front of my and instruct me to “Sign here”. I never imagined that he would cheat me especially since I gave up my full time job in 1978 to be a stay at home mom when we started having children. If I had not given up my full time job and continued working I have calculated that my income would be well over $2300 . Still cannot bring myself to believe that someone could be so devious and deceitful, especially to the mother of his children !. Bad enough that I lost all of that income of full time working – but for him to take my part tie income …… and put it on his income and leave me with little or no income for all of our 24 years of marriage is so unfair ! How does someone play such a nasty trick on the mother of his children ? he is going to be collecting over $3000.00 per month and mine is only $800 ! How unfair is this ! I am having such a hard time making ends meet and he is walking on air !
    I didn’t find out about this until the day I went to the SS office and the representative told me I was only going to get ab out $430 a month and when I asked why he said because you barely worked during your married years. I told him I did work all those years – part time – and he turned the screen around and showed me all the years of NO INCOME or very little income while I was married. So so wrong of him, and to never tell me and let me have to find out when I went to apply for benefits? I called him up later that day and asked him why he did that to me and he nastily replied that the day we got divorced all of his promises went out the door, along with my social security.

    • Sounds like the man I will be divorced from soon. I am finding many evil things he did to mess up the rest of my life financially because he is with a much younger woman. I am nothing to him anymore, and she will receive his 401k worth $500,000, and I will be lucky to keep our old beat up home. I would never have done something like this to him. I could end up homeless with all my health conditions. Hope that things will get better for you. Maria

  12. This question is for an expert. I was married for 22 years. I am 62 now and my ex 63. When I reach full retirement age can I collect half of my exes record and let my own record increase until 70. The reason I am asking is because I read that if you are born after Jan 1954 this is not so. Can you explain the best scenario for me. I would consider delaying my own benefits if this is more advantageous and allowed.

  13. I’m still working and I’m planning to retire at 66 for getting full SS check but my husband is not wait like me, he is not working since 5 year ago after 25 year worked then this year he is 62, he’ll apply for his SS check. What will relating between my SS and his?

  14. I was married for over thirty years. My ex-spouse is two years younger than me. When I reach my full retirement age at 66 & 4 months, can I then collect half of his SS? He worked 38 years and is still living. I visited a SS office today, and was told that I cannot collect on my ex’s SS until we have been divorced for two years. The man who helped me was sitting behind a glass partition and it was hard to hear him. Thank you

    • Our representative is right, if your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them –at age 62 or older-, you must have been divorced for at least two years in order to receive divorced spouse benefits on his or her record. See our Retirement Planner: If You’re Divorced for other eligibility requirements and more detailed information. Thanks.

  15. Would you tell me please, I have been married over 30 years, but we live in different states. Can I collect on his social security when I’m 62 years old even if he is younger? I’ll be 62 April of 2018, and he’ll be 62 July of 2020.

  16. What happens if I never claim my social security benefits because I want to work beyond my full retirement age? Are you forced to take SS? Thanks!

    • Hi! Thank you for your question. First, you should know that you can still work and receive your Social Security retirement benefits at the same time. As a matter of fact, if you work and are full retirement age or older, the amount you make at work will not affect your Social Security benefits, no matter how much you earn. You become entitled to full or unreduced retirement benefits when you reach your full retirement age. Also, you earn delayed retirement credits automatically when and if you delay getting your benefit beyond your full retirement age, up until age 70. Delayed retirement credits increase your monthly benefit amount. The yearly rate of increase for those born in 1943 or later is 8%. However, the benefit increase no longer applies when you reach age 70, even if you continue to delay taking benefits. If you decide to delay your retirement, remember to sign up for Medicare at age 65. We hope this information helps!

  17. I am 64 years old and my last date of work is June 16, 2017 due to downsize of Company. I will turn 65 9/1/17. I do not want to collect full social security benefits until 66 next year. Can I collect partial of my husbands benefits when I turn 65, or now and then get my full retirement benefit at 66?

    • Thank you for your question Rita. You would have to reach your full retirement age to apply and receive only the spouse’s benefit and delay receiving your retirement benefit until a later date. If you turn 62 before January 2, 2016, deemed filing rules will not apply if you file at your full retirement age or later. Your full spouse’s benefit could be up to one-half the amount your spouse is entitled to receive at their full retirement age. However, if a person begins to receive benefits prior to their full retirement age, their benefits are reduced. The reduction factors are permanently applied to all of the benefits the person may qualify for. You could still be eligible to collect reduced benefits on your spouse’s record. Remember, if someone is eligible for both, his or her own benefit and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay their own first. If their spousal benefits are higher than their own retirement benefits, he or she will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit. If you have specific questions, please call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and speak with one of our representatives. We hope this information helps!

  18. My dear husband and I were married for slightly over 60 years when he died. We both were 80 and had been retired for several years. During part of our married life, I was a stay-at-home wife and mother.
    When I worked, I was a public school teacher which, as everyone knows, are not paid livable wages unless they work extra jobs weekends and summers. In Texas, my school deducted our retirement amounts and put into TRS (Teacher Retirement System). TRS hired its own managers and invested the money much as any corporation would do. I retired after teaching 27 years.
    My husband worked throughout our married life and together we paid our taxes (Independent store owner) and reared a son who also became a responsible tax payer.
    When my husband died, I was informed by SS that because of the GPO (Government Pension Offset), I would receive “0” of my husband’s survivor’s benefits. On July 8, 2017, he will have been gone for one year, yet I still do not receive any survivor’s benefits. I receive only my limited teacher retirement. When he was alive, my retirement with his SS, we managed very well, even though not lavishly. Now, I do not receive enough retirement to live on; consequently, I must supplement my monthly income from our limited savings. I don’t know what I will do once my savings are depleted. I have consulted with local SS people, and they tell me that receiving both Teacher retirement AND my husband’s survivor benefits would be “double dipping,” but I DO need my spousal portion of our 61 years of marriage.

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