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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. Julie

    I was married for 41 years when my husband left. divorced now just over 2 years. I’m not able to collect S.S. until June of next year. Can I get his benefits until then to get me by till then?

  2. Carol M.

    I started collecting SS at the age of 62. MY husband started collecting his SS at his full retirement age (66). Since 50% of his SS is higher than what I get under mine, would I be eligible to collect the SS (50% of his)? Thank you advance for nay help you may be able to provide.

    • Ray F.

      Hello Carol. Please keep in mind that your benefit as a spouse can be equal to one-half of your husband’s full retirement amount –only– if you start receiving those benefits at your full retirement age. 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.
      Also, 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.
      To see if you qualify for a higher benefit than what you are currently receiving, call our toll free telephone number at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and ask a representative to assist you. Or contact your local Social Security office directly. Thanks!

  3. MINNIE B.

    Suze, I want to retire but i don’t have a plan i don’t want to just set around watching TV all day. I need some ideas on what to do.I would like to travel and get paid for traveling at age 66
    Thank you,

  4. Patsy

    I am 60, widowed, receiving SS disability, can I draw on my dead husband ss, he had more money than me.
    I live in Ga. he has been dead for 2 years, I been on SS disability for 2 year

    • Ray F.

      Hello Patsy. If you’re getting benefits based on your own work, then you must call us or contact your local office as soon as possible. We’ll check to see if you can get more money as a widow. If so, you’ll get a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount.
      Generally, when calling our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213, you will have a shorter wait time if you call later during the day or later during the week. Our representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Thanks!

  5. Marilyn W.

    I don’t know anything about retirement what do I do fill out application or something do I call ss and they tell me what to do

  6. Penny B.

    I will be 60 in Nov. My husband died 6 years ago. I work in the education system and am thinking of leaving my job to find something with a better income. I am a support worker. Can I draw out what I have paid in at this point should I leave my current job?

  7. Lez'lie R.

    I am five years older than my spouse. I turn 66 in 2021, but I am being asked by SS, to get started on getting plugged into the system. I didn’t make very much when I worked because we are a military family, moving at an average of every 18 months. My spouse retired at 52, after 30 year career and SS had him stop putting money in about a year before he retired because he hit the top limit. Can I collect his retirement at my full age (66), and just drop my meager amount, rather than his potential for losing out on his earned SS, in 2029?

    • Ray F.

      Hello Lez’lie. 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. Your full spouse’s benefit could be up to one-half the amount your spouse is entitled to receive at their full retirement age. If you choose to begin receiving spouse’s benefits before you reach full retirement age, your benefit amount will be permanently reduced.
      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 Retirement Planner: Benefits For You As A Spouse for more information. Thanks!

  8. allyson

    what happens when your not divorced but have been separated for 10 years but also you have been married for 28 years and hes not giving you any type of funds because you lost everything , the kids are grown ect and you know hes collecting social security disability for being hurt.can i file for part of his disability now?do i need to file
    for divorced in order to collect his social security?

  9. Carol

    If someone is married for 3 1/2 years and then the spouse passes away, could the wife collect his social security?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Carol, thank you for your question. Generally, a surviving spouse or widow meets the duration of marriage requirement if the marriage took place no later than 9 months immediately preceding the day on which the worker died.

      If the deceased worked long enough under Social Security, there may be benefits payable to survivors. The survivor may be eligible for reduced widows benefits as early as age 60 (age 50 if disabled) and at any age if caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled and receiving benefits on the deceased’s record. Survivor benefit amounts are based on the deceased’s earnings. The more they paid into Social Security, the higher the benefits would be.

      For additional information, visit our Survivors Planner.

  10. J.C

    I have already filed and is receiving SS now that my spouse has filed how long before mines will be increased? I called and was told they would get back to me in 7 days to set up an appointment for someone to talk to me. Still waiting

    • Vonda V.

      Hi J.C. For your security, we do not have access to your information in this venue. We encourage you to work with your local Social Security office. If you are unable to connect with your local office, you may call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available to help you Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

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