Guest Bloggers

What Every Woman Should Know About Social Security

April 14, 2017 • By

Last Updated: April 14, 2017

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.

 


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About the Author

Suze Orman is an award-winning personal finance expert.

Comments

  1. Christina

    My first husband is deceased. We were married just shy of 17 years. I am divorced from my second husband after 21 years. I am 62 years old. My first husband’s social security is more than mine or my second husbands. Can I collect Social Security from my first husband’s benefits?

    • Vonda

      Hi Christina, thanks for using our blog. It is possible for a person to be eligible for benefits from different records at the same time. However, we are only going to pay the highest benefit amount from either record – meaning that you will only be allowed to receive one payment.

      If you are the widow of a person who worked long enough under Social Security and currently unmarried (or remarried after 60), you can start receiving reduced survivor’s benefits as early as age 60 (50 if disabled). If you are also eligible for retirement benefits on your own record and divorced spouse’s benefits, you may have an additional option. You can apply for retirement/divorced spouse’s or survivors benefits now and switch to the other (higher) benefit at a later date.

      The earliest age you can apply for your own (reduced) retirement/ divorced spouse’s benefits is 62.

      You can get Social Security retirement or survivors benefits and work at the same time. However, there is a limit to how much you can earn and still receive full benefits. The amount you’re allowed to earn while receiving benefits depends on your age. If you attain full retirement age in 2021, the earnings limit is $50,520 but we only count earnings before the month you reach full retirement age. Beginning with the month you reach full retirement age, earnings no longer reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn. If you’re under full retirement age for the entire year, then we deduct $1 from benefit payments for every $2 earned above the annual limit. For 2021, that limit is $18,960.

      You would need to call and make an appointment to file for widow’s benefits as you cannot apply for that online. You can call your local Social Security office. Look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal.

  2. Sharon J.

    I started receiving SA benefits at age 62. Was divorced after 17 years of marriage and not remarried. My ex is 60 years old and just started collecting SSI. Am I entitled to have my check increased based on his benefits? His benefit is about $500 more than my monthly benefit.

    • Vonda

      Hi Sharon, thanks for using our blog. You may be eligible for divorced spouse’s benefits if you are at least 62 years of age and your ex-spouse is receiving Social Security disability benefits. Your benefit as a divorced spouse can be equal to one-half of your ex’s disability amount only if you start receiving those benefits at your full retirement age. If you begin to receive benefits at age 62 or prior to your full retirement age, your benefits are reduced.

      Remember, if you qualify for your own retirement benefits and for benefits as a divorced spouse, we always pay your own retirement benefits first. If your benefits as a divorced spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher divorced spouse benefit. However, the divorced spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your ex-spouse’s disability amount. So, you can only receive additional benefits if your own full retirement benefit (not your reduced benefit) is less than half of your ex-spouse’s disability benefit.

      Check out our Benefits for a Divorced Spouse web page for other eligibility requirements and more detailed information.

      To inquire about potential benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 or you can contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  3. Allison C.

    I was married for over 10 years and will thus be entitled to receive SS based on my ex husbands earnings. He has already turned 65 but is not yet collecting SS. Can I begin collecting based on his earning at age 62 and still continue working full time, or does the earnings cap apply to that situation also?

    • Kenny O.

      Thank you for your question, Allison. Please check out our Social Security divorced spouse’s benefits web page for all the details.

      If you are divorced and currently unmarried, you may be able to receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record if your marriage lasted 10 years or longer. We will always pay your own retirement benefit first. If your benefits as a divorced spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher divorced spouse benefit. However, the divorced spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (not his reduced benefit amount). So, you can only receive additional divorced spouse’s benefits if your own full retirement benefit (not your reduced benefit) is less than half of your ex-husband’s full retirement benefit.

  4. Gene N.

    If a widow is receiving her husbands SS and remarry’s, would she still receives her 1st husbands SS?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Gene. If an individual receives retirement or Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, their marriage will not affect their benefit. If they are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), widow or widower’s benefits, their marriage may affect their benefit. To learn more about how marriage affects benefits, visit our Frequently Asked Questions. We hope this helps.

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