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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. Lisa J.

    My husband of 30 yrs left me to live with his mother three hours away. Throughout our marriage , we split everything . He ended up taking money out of our join account when he left the first time, then returned to stay with me for 3 more years only to leave again at the same time he recd SSDI approval lump sum and he stole cash that came from my great grandfathers history, iow, my family , the income I received was in cash with plans to take steps to pay taxes with the money, close to $10 cash. He took this money and left me. I was blown away , distraught , hurt, scared, alone , disabled, with few resources or people to turn for help. I know I need a lawyer, but I have yet to take action. Meanwhile, I’ve not been able to secure any housing for myself. He’s living rent free w his Mother. He does not care about me. It’s very upsetting and scary to realize how dependent I was on him and our two combined incomes. I’m nit stupid, just too trusting. I’m in need at age 56 with some medical issues. I need help taking steps toward helping myself to what is rightfully mine. I’m a fair person. I don’t want more than is permitted. I have never taken out revenge on him or treated him poorly. I have grieved my marriage and losing his family for almost 3 yrs. I have no additional resources or help. I feel inept and like im allowing this person who I spent half my life with get away with not paying what is fair to me. I need help. I wish I were stronger able to stand up for myself, but I can’t seem to take the steps forward toward initiating the process to hold him accountable. He owes me. I know I would help him, I would do my part , I could not keep from him was was rightfully his share. He is supposed to come into workman s comp, and it’s been 6 yrs since he filed. I have no way of knowing what is happening with that. He simply treats me as if I am dead. I never imagined he could be this person. I am a good person. I only want what is due me. Please advise me. I need help as I seem to keep not taking action to make this right. Why does he not care. It hurts so much to have someone who I thought I knew turn against me and literally abandon me with out ever feeling responsible or concerned about my well being. He’s been housed the entire time , totaling 7 yrs. I was homeless for 6 months, without a car at first. Then the second split , homeless, left to do for myself, no support, no concern, while he had thousands of dollars that he kept from me this entire nearly 3 yrs. I will add he has paid my auto insurance and registration, plus phone bill and I’m still on his health insurance. He gets retirement income as well. I am without. I shared everything/with this man. How stupid I was. Please help. Please advise me. Thank you

    Lisa J Katnic

    I need stability. I was a nurse for many years , I tried to live a good life, do my part. I feel terribly inept. He’s getting away with this. And he doesn’t care. I am at a loss alone and scared. Not a unique story, but I’m me, an individual who matters more than this. I would never treat anyone this way. I’m afraid I’ll lose my insurance. He threatened to spend every dime to make sure I suffered and never get paid, wishing me homeless and on the streets. I don’t understand how it came to be that he was full of so much hatred. I’m lost and hope to get some help.

  2. Mari r.

    We h for many years and looking this up today to apply for SSI through my husband’s I am finding that only if I’m divorced or there’s a death I can receive the benefits does anybody know how I can find out if I have any legal right to my husband’s SSI even though we’ve been separated for years

  3. Jimmie R.

    About Inflation Adjustable Annuity

    I was born before 1954. I am 67 and divorced since 2004 and we were married for 28 years. My spouse has been remarried for over 10 years.
    Do I qualify for spousal benefits?
    Do I qualify for spousal benefits in case of his death?

    • Luis A.

      Hi Jimmie, thank you for your question. We will always pay a person’s own retirement benefit first. If benefits as a spouse would be higher than the retirement benefit, you would also file for spouse’s benefits. If your own full retirement benefit is more than half of your spouse’s full retirement benefit, you would not file for spouse’s benefits. In addition, you may start receiving retirement and/or spousal benefits as early as age 62.
      The Benefits Planner: Retirement provides detailed information about Social Security retirement benefits.
      For Lump-Sum death payments of $255 (a one-time payment), only eligible family members may be able to receive the one-time payment and monthly survivor benefits. For more information on this, please read How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Members Dies. We hope this helps.

  4. Mercedes W.

    I seperated from my husband this year we live apart still married …. he’s on SSDI got it last year. We’ve been married 25 years. Our kids ( in college live with me. I have to work two jobs and it’s killing me. Can I draw off his SSDI now??? I’m 49 he’s 53. I’ve read the sites and I don’t get it. He made the money most of our marriage…. a lot. I always worked but mostly part time ( I stayed home with kids). He will never marry he said again, I probably won’t either. I’m afraid to file at least right now. Can I get some money some how? We were so use to his income, AND NOW I make more money because of my second job but I’m not going to be able to keep this up. I’m planning on working for many more years. Please advise

  5. Ruth D.

    If my husband and I retire at age 67, and I am eligible to take half of his monthly payment, will I still be able to receive my full monthly payment at the age of 70?

  6. Mark S.

    My ex-wife of 32 years is 69 years old, we have been divorced 12 years, she worked only a few quarters, appropriately collects soc. sec. benefits based on my income. Now I have been remarried 10+ years, with current wife turning 66 soon, she is a retired public school teacher so never contributed to SSI. Her ex husband worked 40+ quarters but his income was very low.
    Is my current wife eligible for soc.sec. benefits based on my soc. sec. and the fact that we have been married this long. If so would that impact my ex- wife soc. sec benefits (which I don’t want to happen)
    I know this is not an uncommon concern but I cannot find it addressed any where so far… Thanks

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Mark, thanks for using our blog. The 10 year duration of marriage requirement is if you’re divorced. If you are currently married, the marriage requirement is one year. However, if your wife is or will receive a pension from a government job in which she did not pay Social Security taxes, some or all of her Social Security spouse’s benefit may be offset due to receipt of that pension. This offset is referred to as the Government Pension Offset, or GPO. For additional details, check out our Government Pension Offset factsheet.

  7. tom

    what happens to a woman’s social security benefits if she passes away before beginning to collect and has no children under the age of18

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Tom. This may not be the news you were hoping to hear, but we wanted you to hear it straight from us. If no spouse or child meeting the eligibility requirements exists, survivor benefits are not payable. If you are interested in learning more about survivor’s benefits, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions. We hope this helps.

  8. Barbara B.

    I am receiving widows benefits. How much money can I make from working in the 2019 calendar year before my SS is taken?

  9. Evelyn

    I’ve worked for 42 straight years I will be 65 this year. My full retirement age is 66. If I wait to start my benefits and work part time prior to full retirement will my average wages for the 10 years be reduced by working part time?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Evelyn. We calculate your average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. If there were some years when you didn’t work, or had lower earnings, your benefit amount may be lower as a result. For details on how your retirement benefit is figured, check out our publication, Your Retirement Benefit: How It’s Figured. We hope this helps.

  10. AL

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

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