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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. LAURIE V.

    I plan on retiring at my FRA and am entitled to $2244 Gross before taxes, i was married for 10 years, never remarried, etc. and would be able to collect 50% of my ex spouse’s social security, however, I was born in 1956 and the new rules affect me. I read that the top social security pay out is:
    “The maximum monthly Social Security benefit payment for a person retiring in 2018 at full retirement age is $2,788. However, the maximum allowable benefit amount is only payable to those who had the maximum taxable earnings for at least 35 working years”

    Does that mean since 50% or half of $2,788 is $1344 and since my FR social security is $2125 I wouldn’t really benefit from an ex spouse Social Secuirty (Since I can’t file ans suspend my social secuitty until 70 since i missed the deadline by my birthdate)?

    • R.F.

      That information is correct, Laurie. If your birthday is January 2, 1954 or later, the option to take only one benefit at full retirement age no longer exists. If you file for one benefit, you will be effectively filing for all retirement or spousal benefits. keep in mind that when you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record and divorced spouse’s benefits, we pay the retirement benefit first. If the benefit on your ex-spouse’s record is higher, you will get an additional amount on your ex-spouse’s record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.
      We are required to explore other possible eligibility that could yield you a higher benefit on a different record. We do this when you file your application for Retirement Benefits.
      We hope this information helps!

  2. Cyndi T.

    My question is how would I find out if my exes social security is more than mine?

    • R.F.

      Social Security records are confidential and we do not disclose information, unless we have proper authorization or consent.
      Please keep in mind that if you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record and divorced spouse’s benefits, we will pay the retirement benefit first. If the benefit on your ex-spouse’s record is higher, you will get an additional amount on your ex-spouse’s record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.
      Also keep in mind, that your benefit as a divorced spouse is equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (or disability benefit) -ONLY- if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age.
      Please 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. Or contact your local Social Security office directly. Thanks!

  3. Julian G.

    My ex-husband is drawing social security now. He recently mentioned that I could be receiving his benefits (half) now, even though I don’t retire for four years. Is this true?

    • R.F.

      Hello Julian. Your benefit as a divorced spouse can be equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount, if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age. For information on the requirements for Divorced Spouse’s Benefits, read “If You Are Divorced“. Thanks!

  4. Marilyn C.

    Can I collect my social security until such time that my ex husband collects his?

    • R.F.

      Hi Marilyn. Yes, you may apply for your own retirement benefits and later check to see if you qualify for a higher benefit amount on your ex-husband’s record.
      You may be eligible to receive benefits on your ex-husband’s record if he is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.
      If your ex-husband does not apply for his retirement benefits, but can qualify for them and is age 62 or older, you can receive benefits on his record if you have been divorced for at least two years.
      Here are the other eligibility requirements to receive benefits as a divorced spouse:
      • 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.
      Please visit our Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced, then check out our publication, “What Every Woman Should Know” for more important information.

  5. Beverly

    I am working part time now for 8 months. I will be 63 in 3 months. I need the income from social security. My husband is 6 years younger than me, so nowhere near the retirement age for him. How do I know if I can collect part of both of our benefits? Or does he need to be at least 62 for that possible combined income?

    • R.F.

      Thank you for your question, Beverly. 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.
      If you do have enough credits to qualify for your own Social Security benefits and you apply for your own retirement benefits and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay your own benefits first. If your benefits as a spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit.
      See our Benefits Planner: Retirement for more information. Thanks!

  6. Sandra K.

    I was previously married 24 years to my first husband who passed away 1 year ago, can I receive SS benefits based on his Social Security? I remarried and my present husband is still living. M present husband has a government pension and I was told that if anything happens to him that I should reapply under my first husband because he was not a government employee. Due to my first husbands death I was curiously whether I could apply under his SS. Please advise. Thank you

    • R.F.

      Thank you for your question, Sandra. When you qualify for Social Security benefits, and during the initial interview with one of our representatives, we explore for other possible eligibility criteria (spouse, divorced spouse, widow’s) that can pay you a higher benefit amount. To see how you may qualify as a survivor on someone else’s Social Security record click here!

  7. Russ

    My wife gets S.S. Deisability benefits now at age 63 and works. I am 66, retired and getting SS benefits. When she retires, does her SS benefit adjust upward to half of my higher benefit?

    • R.F.

      Hello Russ. First, Social Security disability benefits automatically change to retirement benefits when disability beneficiaries attain their full retirement age. Benefits are not interrupted with this transition and the benefit amount will generally remains the same.
      Also, if you’re already receiving retirement benefits, your spouse may be eligible to get benefits on your record starting at age 62.
      Please keep in mind, if your spouse qualifies on her own record, we pay that amount first. If the benefit on your record is higher, she will get an additional amount on your record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount. Also, her spouse’s benefit can only be one-half of your full retirement amount, if she starts receiving benefits at her full retirement age, reduction factors apply when someone starts receiving benefits prior to their full retirement age.
      Please call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 and speak to one of our agents for further assistance. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Or contact your local Social Security office directly. Thanks!

  8. MaryAnn E.

    I turned 62, in April. I plan on working until I am 63. I was told that once I turned 62, I could collect part of my ex-husbands social security, he is still working. We divorced in 2008, and were married 25 years. I want to know if I would be eligible to collect it, even though I am still working full time. I would like to know the tax repercussions if I were to collect it now. I do get alimony, and part of his military pension. I work as an instructional assistant, so making under 40K.

    • R.F.

      Hi MaryAnn, if your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you may be eligible to receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record at age 62 or older. See our Retirement Planner: If You’re Divorced for other eligibility requirements and more detailed information.
      You can work while you receive Social Security retirement/divorced spouse benefits. However, in 2018, the annual earnings limit is $17,040 if you’re under full retirement age.
      If you are under full retirement age, we deduct $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit. See our Benefits Planner: Getting Benefits While Working for more information. Thanks!

  9. Ellen n.

    I am divorced and disabled, reviving benefits based on my work history.Since disability benefits are not high enough to live on given the cost of Medicare and the deductible that needs to be met every year,prescription coverage is an added cost with high deductibles as well as increased money spent from living expenses (which can influence your ability to eat or pay rent) I am concerned about my future finances and wether I will be able to pay rent or buy items needed to have been on SSDI since2012 and am now 58 yrs old.Medicare premiums have increased by 40$ over these few years as well as deductibles for Medicare have also increased by 30% since I began receiving benefits.COLA on 1% can not put a dent into increased Medicare and medical costs.If they don’t increase the benefit amount they can not raise premiums for Medicare.I would happily return the 1% increase in lieu of raising Medicare premiums and deductibles.I need medical care due to my disability and just when I need the benefits I can not afford the cost.Since I am not working I can not save for the future and my retirement benefit amount will never increase due to no income for these past years.My chances of increased yearly wage to wipe out the 0 income reported as wages for the year will remain stagnant.Unfourtunatly I can not apply these tactics to increased benefit amounts due to my inability to work.I still have my NYS registered nurse license and will try to maintain the status.I have worked since age 16 and now divorced after 32 years of marriage with limited income, along with life expectancy that continues to rise, I am literally terrified for my future.If you can work do so.Disability is one income you pray you never need.It hurts your future income as you need to work to increase retirement benefits.Have you ever really noticed how many seniors are working during their retirement?A substantial number of seniors that are employed now during their retirement.Just to be able to survive with your basic needs is nearly impossible,as pensions are just about obsolete now days and retired folks are dependent on SS for their expenses.And SS benefits are not sufficient for buying your basic needs.Paying taxes on your 403b plan reduces you income as withdraws are taxable income.And that is what most employers give to employees as a retirement option.If they match your contributions consider it a God send.After dischargeing patients to home early, so the full reimbursement could be made to the hospital, since the patient was discharged within the time frame given by Medicare using DRG codes.If discharge was made after the allotted time for hospitalization, based on DRG codes, the hospital would not receive the full reimbursement rate paid by Medicare.The bottom line is very high on budgetary benefits and cost analysts.How to cut costs was imbedded in our thoughts and performance.I always felt uneasy sending those home despite the fact there illness would become chronic and unmanageable due to their active disease not being properly controlled or patient lacked resources and education on disease progression and how to sufficiently achieve optimal health thru diet, exercise and modifiable health risks to remain healthy.And disease prevention.Who had the opportunity to educate these individuals on their disease process and interventions to help their disease.Neverless prevention of future problems affecting daily living and disease process.We rushed them home only to be re admitted to hospital with current illness presenting in further progression impacting the severity and time needed for this new hospitalization.Scary.And I obeyed my employer and attending Dr.despite what I knew the facts to be.I was the one who provided bedside care and hourly assessments of patients.Not the attending or billing department.Discharge planning begins with hospital admission so it was known how long their stay would be based on DRG codes.Now I am that patient who will be denied needed care or procedures for Maintenence of preventive health and my independence.

  10. William L.

    How much of my ss will my spouse get upon my death added to her ss ? my age is 81 and hers is 81 and both collect ss now. Both worked long enough to collect ss.

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