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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. Artiva

    How do I find out what my Ex Spouse’s SS benefits will be, for planning purposes?

    • V.V.

      Hi Artiva, thank you for your question. If you are divorced and currently unmarried, you may be able to receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record if your marriage lasted 10 years or longer. For eligibility details, check out the Retirement Planner: If You’re Divorced .

      For your security, we do not have access to your information in this venue. To inquire about potential benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, you will need to contact your local Social Security office or 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.

  2. KM J.

    If a wife has never worked, thus has never paid into the SS system, and the husband waits until his full retirement age (say age 67) to draw his SS will the wife still receive up to one half of his SS benefits when she reaches age 62? – wife is 7 years younger that her husband.

    • A.C.

      Hi, KM. 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. Please visit our Retirement Planner: Benefits For Your Spouse for more information. We hope this helps.

  3. pat r.

    my wife is 63 and i am 69 and retired and on ss and also recieve a benefit for our son my wife dosen’t work see takes care of both of us our son is 9. can she get spousal benefits with child without being penalized for early retirement then get a normal retirement at age 66

    • V.V.

      Hi Pat, thank you for using our blog to ask your question. A spouse’s benefit is unreduced for any month he/she has a child in care; however, if he/she is also entitled to a reduced retirement benefit, the amount payable is the difference between the unreduced spouse’s benefit and the reduced retirement benefit.

      To inquire about potential benefits, your wife will need to contact her local office or call our toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

  4. Viola t.

    What about the current wife that is married to him now for over 10 years? Does she deserve anything?

    • V.V.

      Hi Viola, thank you for using our blog to ask your question. Please check out our Benefits for a Spouse web page along with our Benefits for a Divorced Spouse web page and you will see that the benefit computations are the same. In both cases, if the benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your spouse/ex-spouse’s work, you can file.

  5. Karen C.

    My first husband died at a young age. I did not remarry until 27 years later, unfortunately that marriage only lasted 7 years. Will I be entitled to my deceased husbands SS?

    • V.V.

      Hi Karen: As long as you are unmarried, or remarried after age 60, you may be eligible for widow’s benefits on your first husband’s record. To learn more , visit our Survivors Planner: Survivors Benefits For The Widow Or Widower.

  6. Rosmyn

    My husband is 62 in March taking SS because of health we have 2 girls 9 and 3 and one on the way!!! I think his payment is going to be 1,400 to 1,700 can we pay our mortgage payment with this money since its shelter for the kids?? Any advice would help please thank you

    • A.C.

      Hi, Rosmyn. It sounds like you are referring to children’s benefits. If so, please refer to our Frequently Asked Questions about your reporting responsibilities a representative payee for a minor child. We hope this helps.

  7. Ethel J.

    I am 65 and still working full time. My husband has been receiving social security retirement benefits for the past 2 years. Do I qualify to receive any portion of this retirement benefits at this time?

    • V.V.

      Hi Ethel. Thank you for your question. We will always pay your own retirement benefit 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. However, the spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your husband’s full retirement amount (not his reduced benefit amount). So, you can only receive additional spouse’s benefits if your own full retirement benefit (not your reduced benefit) is less than half of your husband’s full retirement benefit.

  8. Yvette W.

    I was born 10-31-56 so my husband went online to start the process of receiving my ss check. I received a letter saying I would receive $719.99 o January 23, 2019. My question is what happened to my other two months since my birthday which I’m entitled to? Oct. to Nov. equals ONE, Nov. to Dec. equals TWO, Dec to Jan equals THREE!! So why are they only sending me a check for one month? I thought I would start receiving checks after I turned 62 so this doesn’t make since unless they will send me backpay for previous two months??!!

    • A.C.

      Hi, Yvette. Unfortunately, your issue is a bit more than we can handle in this forum. For your security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We ask that you work with your local office regarding your specific case. We hope this is resolved soon.

  9. James A.

    I absolutely am confused why I can no longer find out information about how long a woman has to be married to a man in order to collect his social security. I cannot find any definitive answer.

    All these official sites tell me this or that and that a woman MAY be qualified.

    I recognize that I may be looking in the wrong places.

  10. Ruth O.

    I was told that you have to earn a “minimum” amount for a quarter to count towards social security benefits. What is the bare minimum required?

    • R.F.

      Hello Ruth. In 2018, you must earn $1,320 to get a “work credit”. In 2019, you must earn $1,360. See “How Credits Are Earned” for more information. Thanks!

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