Guest Bloggers

What Every Woman Should Know About Social Security

April 14, 2017 • By

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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, Personal Finance Expert

Suze Orman is an award-winning personal finance expert.


  1. Diane T.

    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.

    • R.F.

      Thank you for sharing, Diane!

      • Rosa

        Action requires knwldeoge, and now I can act!

  2. Donna D.

    I thought you needed to be married for ONE year not TEN to be eligible for spousal benefits. Is that not so?

    • J.Y.

      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.

    • Rene

      No, it is 10 years.

  3. LESLY F.

    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 what I supose to do I 63 years old I have Health conditions.major depression bipolar Diabetes high blood pressure sleep desorder I am medication for phisical and mental issues please I need help.

    • Hope F.

      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.

  4. sheila

    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?

    • A.C.

      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

      • Toni

        I haven’t read everything yet, but my circumstance meets all the requirements, aside the fact my ex is still living !!! He is 79 Because of family / new spouse ill feelings, they would never give me a copy of death certificate. How will I acquire one, should the time come ?

  5. risa r.

    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.

    • Lidia

      Hi Mrs Heem8beI&#r217;m planning on going to Prague next year so I’ll be reading your posts with great interest! You and Mr Hembree have been very busy exploring and I love your photos. Are you going to visit the town of Cesky Krumlov while you’re there?Have fun…Miss Y

  6. Thomas W.

    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.

    • J.Y.

      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!

    • Maria

      Their tech people don’t have brains.

  7. doc

    Did you mean the highest 35 quarters or years??

  8. Marie

    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!

    • A.C.

      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.

    • Sharon

      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).

      • R.F.

        For tax questions, please contact the IRS. Their toll-free number is 1-800-829-1040.

    • Johnetta

      Just do me a favor and keep writing such trhecnant analyses, OK?

  9. Debi

    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.

    • Bob H.

      What Ms. Orman stated in #4 is exactly wrong. A surviving spouse is entitled to100% of the deceased spouse’s SS benefit (if she is of full SS retirement age herself.) See this Money article which gets it right:

      • Marc

        Why not consult the official Social Security Administration website (you’re on it rught now) for the actual FACTS rather than magazine articles, pundits, politicians, the media, your neighbors, friends & relatives, or other posters’ umderstanding or opinions? Only by going to the original SOURCE of the information can you be assured of receiving the real, complete, correct factual information about Social Security.

    • A.C.

      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!

  10. Tammie G.

    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.

    • OD

      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.

      • Patti

        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!

        • Maria

          Yes, they purposely cheat workers who have their credits at hard times such as car accidents that lead to permanent disabilities. They are the worse kinds of people, take a look at their rulings by their judges. A mom in charge of minors, had a car accident and the judge told her they’re not paying for daycare and she can watch kids while on narcotics. SSA judges are biased, unfair and cheats. The whole SSA is a complete fraud.

      • Holly

        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!!

        • Maria

          100 percent right. The State hires third party claim representatives to time you out of your benefits. The rest they’ve moved towards automated rejections now for years.

      • geisha

        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…

        • Lakesha

          Wow! Great thikginn! JK

      • Klueey

        Mr. Snidely,
        The topic is about women not men. You don’t know what it will be like for your wife if you die.
        The SS stays the same and Medicare and Supplement Premiums increase each year, Deductibles and CoPays increase each year. My guess is that 5 years after you die she will be flat broke. The house will fall apart with no funds for repairs, etc. etc. Only women on SS at this time should be responding to this topic. Stay off women topics that you know nothing about and I won’t answer prostate cancer topics.

    • Jeff

      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.

      • Suevonne

        Your post is a timely cotibirutnon to the debate

      • Maria

        Normally they use to make workers with brains but from your comment I see you don’t have one. A perfect employee working for Social Security Administration. Do you ever think of the stress of unexpected deaths and what these families go through? Or does the computer think for you to automatically deny.

    • Frances B.

      And then you only get 60% because you are not 65. And it doesn’t change either when you turn 65. And you cannot draw your own SS even if you worked all your life. Oh woe the widow!

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