Social Security guidelines for retirement benefits were established all the way back in the 1930’s and were founded on a traditional family situation1. With marriage patterns and caregiving needs constantly evolving, the modern woman could be at a disadvantage if strategic retirement planning is not properly implemented. While Social Security is gender-neutral and individuals with identical earnings histories are treated equally in terms of benefits, the reality of the matter is that women face greater economic challenges than men do when it comes to retirement for a number of reasons2.
For example, women tend to live longer than men, but have lower lifetime earnings. Because of this, women have a strong likelihood of reaching retirement with significantly smaller pensions and/or assets than their male counterparts3. Because nearly 55 percent of Social Security beneficiaries today are women, it is important to know the details of your benefits that you may not be aware of.
Caregiving and Strategizing
Losing one paycheck is a concern due to women outliving men. Women also have a higher probability of being single and dependent on only one income. Furthermore, women have a tendency to care for multiple people at a time: parents, spouses, and children, etc., and leave the workforce to care for these loved ones. Taking a break from the workforce to care for loved ones may result in less wealth accumulation and a smaller Social Security benefit. Being single with just one income while possibly taking care of multiple different people at a given time is one of the reasons why it is so important for women, the likely caregivers, to strategize their retirement income. Marriage typically helps Social Security beneficiaries, and knowing that you can take a former spouse’s Social Security benefit could be a major advantage depending on your specific situation.
The Facts You Should Know
If you are married or have ever been married, you have options when it comes to your Social Security benefit…options that no one may have told you about. Did you know that divorced women may be able to receive benefits on an ex-spouse? Even if they have remarried! Married women also have the option of claiming benefits on either their work record or 50% their spouse’s benefit6. Women who have been widowed are also eligible to receive a survivor’s benefit. Here are the cold, hard facts:
- Married women are eligible to claim half of their spouse’s Social Security benefit instead of their own. This option may be beneficial for couples with large earnings differences. To be qualified, you have to be at least 62 years of age (dependent on your birth year) in order to start receiving your benefit.
- If divorced, you may be eligible to claim benefits on a former spouse’s record, even if your ex-spouse is remarried. If your marriage lasted 10 or more years, you are currently unmarried, and you are 62 years or older, you are certainly qualified to receive Social Security benefits. Your ex must also be at least 62 years old, and your benefit has no effect on the benefit amount of your spouse.
- And possibly the most important part of all: your ex-spouse never has to know. The Social Security Administration will not notify your ex if you are receiving his benefit7. And even if your ex-spouse is deceased, you still have the option of receiving his benefit. Which leads to the next point…
- If widowed, you are eligible to receive your late spouse’s Social Security payment in the form of a survivor benefit, provided that it is a greater amount than your own benefit. (Why would you take your late spouse’s benefit if it is less than your own?) You must be at least 60 years of age—if widowed, you are not required to wait until age 62. If you are disabled, you can receive this benefit at the age of 50.
- Know that if you remarry before the age in which you are eligible to receive your late spouse’s benefit, you will be unable to receive their benefit. If you remarry after you start receiving your deceased spouse’s benefit, you can still continue to receive benefit (but if your new spouse is a Social Security recipient and his benefit is larger than your late spouse’s, you may consider applying for your current spouse’s benefit instead). You cannot receive both benefits, you will have to choose one or the other.
Knowledge is power, and the more you know about your Social Security options, the greater you will benefit from your benefit.