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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. Lucile

    Hello, i turned 62 in 2014, and this post
    on the website seems to say that i can take my spousal benefits while letting my own benefits grow until i turn 70. Can my husband also let his own benefits grow?

    Thank you.

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question, Lucille. Please note that the article makes reference to: If you turning 62 before January 2, 2016, and if you file for benefits at your full retirement age or later. Then, deemed filing rules will not apply, and you may file for either your spouse’s benefit or your retirement benefit without being required or “deemed” to file for the other. This will allow you to restrict your application to apply only for spouse’s benefits and delay filing for your own retirement in order to earn delayed retirement credits.
      If your birthday is January 2, 1954 or later, the option to take only one benefit at full retirement age no longer exists.
      See the section “How Much Will I Receive? Of our Retirement Planner: Benefits For You As A Spouse, for more information. We hope this helps!

      • Lucile

        So i cannot get spousal benefits unless my husband files for his benefits, correct?

        Thank you.

        • Ray F.

          Hi Lucille. Yes, 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 or disability benefits.

  2. Janet S.

    I turned 62 in the fall of 2017. I am still working. If I wanted to retire early could I get benefits based on my husband’s salary, even though he is only 61 and still working?

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question, Janet. Generally, a divorced spouse may be able to receive benefits on the ex-spouse’s record starting at age 62 or older. However, your ex-husband must be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
      Here are the additional requirements to receive benefits if you are divorced:
      • You are unmarried;
      • You were married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years;
      • 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.

      Note: If your ex-husband does not apply for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them (at his age 62), you can receive benefits on his record if you have been divorced for at least two years. We hope this information helps!

  3. Shelia M.

    The question I have is, could I draw off my husbands SS even if he’s still working and I’m disabled and drawing my disability? I’ve been getting my disability for about 9 or maybe 10 years now, but I’ve been disabled for 11yrs and when he realized I wasn’t going to be able to work any longer and bring money into the home. Well let’s just say he told me I had to go! And he made my life miserable so that I had no other choice but to move in with my sister around 2008!! It was the month of, I want to say August! I will not DIVORCE him, I can’t really see any reason to. But if someone could give me an answer I would greatly appreciate it.
    Thank you ever so much!

  4. Robert F.

    I’ve divorced my wife after 30 years of marriage. When I retire and begin to receive Social Security benefits, does my ex-wife get half of my total benefit. In other words if I’m suppose to get $1,500 a month will she get $750 and I get $750. I need to know how much I will lose if any because she is filing for SS using my work income.

    • Ray F.

      Hello Robert, your ex-wife’s benefit as a divorced spouse can be equal to one-half of your full retirement amount -ONLY- if she starts receiving benefits at her full retirement age. Also, the amount of benefits your divorced spouse gets has no effect on the amount of benefits you may receive.
      We hope this information helps!

  5. Brad D.

    I get full benefits now. My wife will get full benefits in a few years. So we will be getting double full benefits. Then I die. Does she still get her full benefit AND still get my full benefit – i.e. she still gets double full benefits?

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question, Brad. The monthly benefit amount your wife would get as a widow is a percentage of your basic Social Security benefit. It also depends on her age, when she starts receiving those benefits.
      Also, keep in mind that while is possible for a person to be eligible to more than one benefit at the same time, we are only going to pay the highest benefit amount from either record – meaning that your wife will only be allowed to receive one payment.
      Visit our Survivors Planner: How Much Would Your Benefit Be? for more information on this topic. We hope this helps!

  6. Robin

    Why isn’t SS telling the whole truth regarding divorced spouse benefits. We I (the wife) make more than half of the husbands benefit, then I get nothing. That is not what SS is saying. So after weeks of research, I finally get told that. SS said I could receive some of the ex-husbands benefits if he dies before me. He makes about $700 more than I do. I thought I could receive some of his to increase mine, but no. Seems so unfair. I have also found out that men receive a larger benefit even though the wife made more than him.

  7. Ron M.

    Really a question–
    My wife will start in a few months drawing her social security at 62.
    My Social security will be higher than hers.
    If and when I pass does she then receive an increase in her social security to the amount I was receiving ?

  8. Jeanette D.

    I am 62, currently unemployed for the last year. I do not have a disability. If I do not draw SS benefits and do not work, will by benefits increase at 66 and 2 months, even if I did not work? I would live off of retirement savings and 1 small rental property. Income is $650 for rental and $200,000 in retirement investments. I still owe $34,000 on my home mortgage. What would you advise? Also, I am single.

    • Ray F.

      Hello, Jeanette. The decision on when to file is a personal one. We can only provide you with the information to help you make the best choice according to your own situation.
      Our Retirement Estimator is exactly the calculator you are looking for! It gives you future estimates of your monthly Social Security benefits based on your actual Social Security earnings record.
      In addition, we have a variety of other calculators to help you plan for the future. Which calculator you choose depends on what you want to do. Also, we suggest that you can create a my Social Security account. With your personal my Social Security account, you can verify your earnings, get your Social Security Statement, and much more. Happy planning!
      You can call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 for further assistance. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. We hope this information helps!

  9. Cos C.

    My wife and I are both 62. She is planning on starting her SS withdrawals next year at 63, but I am planning to wait until FRA. Will she still have access to my full spousal benefit when I reach FRA or will the spousal benefit be discounted since she started her withdrawal prior to her FRA?

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question Cos. If a person begins to receive benefits at age 62 or 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. Your wife may still be eligible to collect reduced benefits on your record when you apply. 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. Please visit our Retirement Planner: Benefits For Your Spouse for more information.

  10. Suzanne S.

    I would like to know more about what you think about when a single never married woman should take their Social Security benefits.

    Thank you,

Comments are closed.