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What Are the Most Common Retirement Questions You Receive about Social Security?

April 6, 2017 • By

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Last Updated: April 6, 2017

Suze OrmanThere are two big questions I hear plenty.

  1. My husband wants to retire at 62 and start taking Social Security. Is that okay?

This typically comes up because husbands are often a few years older than their wives, and figure they want to “get their money’s worth” by taking Social Security as early as possible. I think that can be a bad move. Unless you have oodles of money to live on in retirement, you — as a couple — want to maximize your Social Security payout for the longest surviving spouse. It’s important to understand that when one spouse dies, the other spouse is entitled to just one Social Security payment. So you want the surviving spouse to have the biggest possible benefit. Here’s how: Whichever spouse is the higher earner (and thus eligible for a bigger Social Security benefit) should  delay taking Social Security at least until their Full Retirement Age (FRA), which is between age 66 and 67, depending on the year you were born.

Your FRA benefit is 25 to 30 percent higher than the benefit you can get at age 62. Even better is to have the high earner wait all the way until age 70. The benefit if you start then is more than 65 percent higher than the benefit you are entitled to at age 62. While the high-earner should wait as long as possible, the other spouse can start earlier, but I always encourage both spouses to delay as long as possible.

  1. I am getting divorced and haven’t worked full time. Am I going to be able to get Social Security?

If you were married at least 10 years you will be eligible for Social Security based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record. Your receiving a benefit will have no impact on the benefit your ex is eligible for.

There are a few caveats to understand about how this works. Most important, you can’t make a claim on an ex-spouse’s record if you remarry. (It doesn’t matter if your ex remarried.) You also need to be at least 62 years old. You can learn more about that here.


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. Gina C.

    I was born and raised in France and worked there for several years before getting married and moving to the U.S. I have been collecting social security for 14 years since I retired when I was 65. In 2004, I applied to the U.S. SS to get French S.S. in Sacramento, CA but they LOST my paperwork with the ORIGINAL documents that, like a fool, I had provided. Ever since, I have been trying to find out how I could reapply to no avail. I am now 79 years old and sure could use the small amount of French S.S. (I have two children, one of whom was born in France). Can you please help me and tell me how to go about it and also if the benefits could be retroactive? Than you so much!

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Gina. Thank you for your question. If you work outside the United States, different rules may apply in determining if you can get your benefit checks. The United States has bilateral Social Security agreements with 24 countries. The agreements improve benefit protection for workers who have divided their careers between the United States and another country. For more information about our international agreements, visit our International Programs webpage. For your security, we do not have access to your personal information in this venue. Since you have questions about your individual claim and you are in the United States, please call or visit your local Social Security office. If you are outside the United States, see our list of Contacts for Services outside the United States. We hope this helps.

  2. Dee

    Why does the SSA website make it so difficult to access our account if we can’t remember a password. They lock you out for 24-hours if you can’t recall an old phone number or other information in order to establish identity. I understand all the security, however, this is a little over the top and I still can’t access my online information.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Dee. We are sorry you are having issues accessing your account. Please call 1-800-772-1213 for assistance. After you hear “Briefly tell me why you are calling,” say “Help Desk” for help with the My Social Security website. Sometimes, it might be best to visit your local Social Security office for further assistance.

  3. Lynn

    If I collect my ss at 62 can I collect my husband at 70. I was told it would change to his at 66 2 mos. but thought could I wait to 70

    • Ray F.

      Hi Lynn. Generally, if you qualify and 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. Please read our “Retirement Planner: Benefits For You As A Spouse” or 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. Thanks.

  4. paul m.

    hi Suze
    I’m 65 in September and a US national/dual passport holder working in the UK for the past 18 years – I have 39 quarters having worked and paid tax in USA – and will be eligible for a partial UK state pension. Can some of my time working in the UK be considered as part of my missing quarter?

    • paul m.

      I’ve also been told I need to pay my fica(? – not sure if that’s what it’s called) which would enable me to claim Medicaid and/or Medicaid in the event I was to return to the US to live on a permanent basis

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question Paul. Under a “Totalization Agreement“, if a worker has some U.S. coverage but not enough to qualify for benefits, SSA will count periods of coverage that the worker has earned under the Social Security program of an agreement country. In the same way, a country party to an agreement with the United States will take into account a worker’s coverage under the U.S. program if it is needed to qualify for that country’s Social Security benefits. Please visit our International Programs webpage to learn more about the Totalization Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. If after browsing our site and you still have questions about international Social Security agreements, we encourage you to contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your area. We hope this information helps.


    Does the amount you can earn before affecting your social security retirement increase each year between 62, 63, 64, 65 and 66?

    • Ray F.

      Hi Timothy. The amount usually increases. For beneficiaries younger than full retirement age, the earnings limits in 2016 was $15,720. For 2017, that limit is $16,920. The new amounts are announced towards the end of each year. Visit our Retirement Planner: Getting Benefits While Working for more information.

      • TIMOTHY H.

        Thank-you Ray. I love straight answers. Appreciated:)

  6. cgray

    My husband died in 1991. When I turned 60 I began drawing on his social security. I will turn 65 next month. Can I draw my social security as well as his?

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question. If you receive benefits as a widow or widower or as a surviving divorced spouse, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse. In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.

  7. Marion H.

    I need help leaving my direct deposit to a bank and going to Green Dot card,what should I do? Time is not on my side.


    • Ray F.

      Hi Marion. Please contact us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; or Contact your local Social Security office. Thanks.

  8. pat

    I have been collecting social security disability benefits for almost 9 yrs due to a stroke and will turn 65 on Aug 31 2017. How do my benefits change? Do I receive more money monthly? Someone told me I will receive 1/3 more income.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Pat, when you receive disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, we will automatically convert your disability benefits to retirement benefits, when you attain your full retirement age. The benefit amount will generally remain the same.

  9. Jody

    What are the rules for working and collecting a salary AFTER taking SS benefits? Thanks

    • Ryan

      They are the same. For 2017, the earnings limit is $16,920.00 whether it is a salary or working hourly. If you are under your full retirement age and working or receiving a salary, you fall under the earnings limit. SSA reduces your benefit amount by $1 for every $2 OVER the limit of $16,920.00. If you are passed your full retirement age, the earnings limit does not apply.

    • Ray F.

  10. Sandie K.

    If I am still working and my husband has chosen not to work for the last 19 years, when he turns 65 this December will his SS be higher than if he had taken it at 62???? His income amounts to rental income from properties he has inherited. He has not contributed to SS in the past 19 years. Can you settle this argument?

    • Ryan

      Thank you for your question Sandie. SSA bases your benefit payment on what is called high 35, which is your highest 35 years of your earnings. SSA taxes are based on your earnings and since he has no reported earnings, he has no SSA taxes and therefore his benefit amount does not increase. So, in a nut shell, because he has not paid any SSA tax over the last 19 years, his benefits will only be higher because of the Cost of Living Adjustments. Therefore, the answer to your question is “Yes” but only due to the COLA increases.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Sandie. If you are eligible to retire at age 62, we use the highest 35 years of earnings to compute your benefit amount. If you do not have 35 years of earnings, we will use all of the earnings on your record. We will factor in an annual total of $0.00 earnings for each of the remaining years.
      You can use our Online Retirement Estimator to get estimates on your future retirement benefits. You can also create a my Social Security account to review estimates of your retirement, disability, and survivors benefits, your earnings record, and the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid.

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