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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. 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!

  2. Adrian

    Why is it that we always hear that the SS is ending in year 2030 or 2032 or 203….
    First SS funding should not be used for other purposes which are not exclusively for Retirement payments.
    Secondly, why is it that new employees don’t pay 0.5% more for SS funding and avoid the horrendous thought that old people are not to receive SS when they are 70+ and guarantee the SS funding by increasing the amount to pay along with every paycheck in 0.5%
    If SS calculates what that additional income would mean you will see that SS will never be depleted in the next century while employees are only paying 0.5% more towards their retirement funding instead of paying additional 401(k) and IRA’s etc.

    After all contributing to an IRA or 401(k) pl;an will mean to contribute with at least 5% of earnings and by paying 0.5% of say $5,000 in a month will mean $25 and will guarantee a century of income.

  3. Adrian

    How is the retirement calculated?
    I have worked for 20 years and have earned in average $60,000 per year, meaning $5,000 per month.
    Why is it that if I retire at age 66 and 2 months I wuill only receive $1,750 and if I retire at age 70 I will receive $2,325?

  4. Adrian

    If a person who has worked for 20 years and is 64 years old, dies what is the wives situation if she is currently 61 regarding his husbands SS retirement? Will she receive a monthly income? What happens with all the money her husband gave to the SS for 240 months?

  5. Adrian

    Why does SS calculate the highest earnings of the last 35 years that nearly going through all the labor years a person can have. Why doesn’t the SS consider the last 15 years which is more realistic than 35.

  6. Betty D.

    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.

    • Ray F.

      Social Security benefits can be reduced based on one of two provisions. Your own Social Security benefit can be reduced based on the Windfall Elimination Provision. Your spouse’s, divorced spouse’s, surviving divorced spouse’s or widow’s benefits under Social Security may be affected by the Government Pension Offset. For more information, go to our “Frequently Asked Questions” web page. Thanks.

  7. Rita F.

    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?

    • Ray F.

      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!

      • Lorene

        This article aceveihd exactly what I wanted it to achieve.

    • Blondie

      If time is money you’ve made me a weahilter woman.

  8. Ten

    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!

    • Ray F.

      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!

      • Vinny

        The paragon of untaesdrnding these issues is right here!

  9. anamardiaz

    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.

    • Ray F.

      Hi, you may be able to get spouse’s retirement benefits if you are at least 62 years of age and your spouse is receiving retirement benefits (at age 62 or older), or if he is receiving disability benefits. See our Retirement Planner: Benefits For You As A Spouse, for more information.

      • Mellie

        Extmerely helpful article, please write more.

  10. ten

    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

    • Ray F.

      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.

      • Bobbo

        Alaaizkam-informataon found, problem solved, thanks!

    • Gwenelda

      That’s a subtle way of thiiknng about it.

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