Social Security: What Every Woman Needs To Know
When do I become eligible for benefits?
- As a worker: You must work and pay Social Security taxes for at least 10 years , and be at least 62 years old.
- As a spouse or divorced spouse: You must be at least 62 years old. If you are divorced, you must have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years and currently be unmarried.
- As a widow: You must be at least 60 years old . If you are divorced, you can claim the survivors benefit if you were married at least 10 years and are currently unmarried .
If I qualify for more than one benefit, can I receive the total amount of both?
No. You will receive the benefit amount that provides you with the higher monthly benefit, but you do not receive both benefits added together.
When can I receive Social Security retirement benefits?You may receive full benefits at full retirement age. Full retirement age is increasing gradually until it reaches age 67 for those who were born 1960 or later. See the chart below.
|Year of Birth
What happens to my benefit if I claim early?
If you start your benefits early, your benefits are reduced permanently. Your benefit is reduced about one-half of one percent for each month you start your Social Security before your full retirement age. For example, if your full retirement age is 67 and you sign up for Social Security when you are 62, you would only get 70% percent of your full benefit.
What happens to my benefit if I delay claiming it?
Can I work and still receive my Social Security benefit?
Who Qualifies For Social Security Survivor Benefits
Monthly survivor benefits are available to certain family members, including:
- A widow age 60 or older who has not remarried
- A widow of any age who is caring for the deceased’s child under age 16 or disabled
- An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 , or 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22
- A stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild, or adopted child, under certain circumstances
- Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their income and whose own Social Security benefit would not be larger than that of the deceased offspring
- A surviving divorced spouse, if they meet other eligibility requirements
First of all, you have to work a certain number of years and amass the requisite number of “credits” each year for your loved ones to be eligible for benefitswhich you have to do to be eligible yourself. For 2021, you receive one credit for every $1,470 you earn, up to $5,880, for a total of four credits a year. In 2022, it rises to every $1,510 you earn, up to $6,040.
Spouse Passes And Both Of You Had Already Begun Benefts
Ideally, we live a long, happy life, and both spouses are in their 70s and beyond and receiving their Social Security benefits. In this scenario, when one spouse passes, the surviving spouse can continue the larger benefit amount but they cant collect a survivor benefit and their own. Whichever monthly amount is smaller will stop, and the larger monthly check will continue.
Example: Assume John and Beth are in their late 70s, and both are collecting benefits. If John passes before Beth, and his benefit amount is greater than hers, she will get his monthly amount going forward but no longer receive her retirement benefit.
In all our examples, if the surviving spouse was already receiving benefits, they will either continue to receive what they were getting, or if it is larger, they can switch to the survivor benefit but they cannot collect both simultaneously. If a surviving spouse had recently started benefits, there are rare cases where it would make sense for them to stop, repay what they had received, file a restricted application for survivor benefits, then plan on switching to their retirement benefit at age 70.
As you can imagine, trying to remember all these rules is not easy. Because the rules are complex and we dont want to miss any nuances that could result in larger checks, we use software that evaluates the claiming choices and spits out the options.
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Whats The Family Maximum Benefit
The point of the Family Maximum Benefit is to keep family members who are living together from all claiming full auxiliary benefits from the same record. Social Security is pretty strapped for cash, and doesnt want too many people to claim benefits from the record of only one person who paid into the system.
Take the case of a family of four, with one retired worker, one spouse and two minor children. If you added up the benefits, the retired worker would get 100%, the spouse would be eligible for 50% of the workers benefits and each child would be eligible for 50% as well. Because of the FMB, though, this family wont be able to claim all of those benefits. Instead, the spouse and childrens auxiliary benefits will be adjusted to make sure they fall below a certain percentage of the retired workers benefits.
A wage earners personal maximum benefits + the maximum auxiliary benefits for all eligible family members = the Family Maximum Benefit. This maximum is computed as a percentage of the workers maximum primary benefit, and ranges between 150% and 187% of those benefits.
Families with the lowest incomes fall under the 150% rule, meaning that the family can only claim a maximum of 150% of a workers Primary Insurance Amount . Meanwhile, middle-income families can claim up to 187% of benefits, and the highest-earning families can claim up to 175%. Yes, you read that correctly.
Former Spouses Applying For Survivor Benefits And Benefit Received In The Month Of Death
An ex-spouse who was married for at least 10 years before divorcing and who has been divorced for at least two years is eligible for a widow/widower Social Security survivor benefit starting when the ex-spouse becomes age 60. They will lose eligibility for a former spouses survivor benefit if they remarry before age 60. They will not lose the former spouses survivor benefit if they remarry at age 60 or older.
A widow/widower or a surviving divorced spouse cannot apply online for survivor benefits. They need to apply for the benefit by contacting the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 to request an appointment.
Finally, another important piece of information for surviving spouses to know: If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, the surviving spouse must return the monthly benefit received for the month of death and any later months. If funds were received by direct deposit, the surviving spouse or another family member should ask the bank to return the money to the Social Security Administration. If the benefits were received by check, then the surviving spouse should not cash the checks and return the checks to the Social Security Administration as soon as possible.
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Other Things You Need To Know
There are limits on how much survivors may earn while they receive benefits.
Benefits for a widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse may be affected by several additional factors:
- If you remarry before age 60 , you cannot receive benefits as a surviving spouse while you are married.
- If you remarry after age 60 , you will continue to qualify for benefits on your deceased spouse’s Social Security record.
- If you receive benefits as a widow, widower, or 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 allow the other benefit amount to increase.
- If you will also receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security, such as government or foreign work, your Social Security benefits as a survivor may be affected.
However, if your current spouse is a Social Security beneficiary, you may want to apply for spouse’s benefits on their record. If that amount is more than your widow’s or widower’s benefit, you will receive a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount.
How To Use This Information
Each survivor’s situation is different. Talk to a Social Security representative before you decide to take benefits.
If you know what the worker’s yearly lifetime earnings were, you can use our Online Calculator to get a rough estimate of what the benefits would be for the surviving spouse at full retirement age.
If you know what the widow or widowers benefit is at full retirement age, you can use the information for the survivor’s year of birth to find out how much the widows or widowers benefit would be at various ages.
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Chapter : How To Apply For Survivor Benefits
A widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse cannot apply online for survivors benefits. You must call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 Alternatively, you can go in person to your local Social Security field office.
To apply for Social Security survivor benefits, you must have the following documents:
- Both your own Social Security number and that of the deceased worker
- Your birth certificate
- Your marriage certificate
- Your divorce certificate
- Dependent childrens Social Security numbers, if available, and birth certificates
Did you Know?
Unlike other Social Security benefits, you cannot apply for survivors benefits online. You must call the SSA or go in person to your local Social Security field office.
Applying and ensuring you claim the right benefit at the right time for your personal finances can be confusing. When youre ready to apply, we recommend using a checklist to ensure you take the right steps and have the right documentation.
A Social Security Program Rules
Much of the discussion in this section focuses on widows who are under the age of 60 and who were married to persons who worked in Social Security covered employment.6 Such people will potentially be eligible for widow benefits from Social Security when they reach age 60. If an eligible widow claims benefits at age 60, she will receive a monthly benefit amount equal to 71.5 percent of the primary insurance amount .7 The widow may choose to defer receipt of benefits until after age 60 and receive a higher monthly benefit. If she defers receipt until the normal retirement age , she will receive a monthly amount equal to 100 percent of the deceased husband’s PIA.8
The current law requires that the widow be unmarried in order to claim widow benefits, unless the marriage occurred after the widow attained age 60.9 That is, a widow who remarries before age 60 has no claim to the widow benefits and therefore faces a marriage penalty. However, a widow who remarries after reaching age 60 retains full claim on these benefits.10
The series of law changes have benefited a number of individuals. Currently, married persons represent about 350,000, or 4 percent, of all Social Security aged survivor beneficiaries.16
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How Do You Apply For Survivor Benefits
Because individual circumstances can vary widely, it is not possible to apply for survivor benefits online. However, you can apply over the phone or by appointment at your local Social Security office. Current requirements and contact information are always available on the Social Security Administration website.
Applying for survivor benefits may require you to submit specific documents, such as a death certificate, marriage certificate, proof of citizenship, or a divorce decree, so rounding them up beforehand will help expedite the process.
Receiving Survivors Benefits Early
The earliest a widow or widower can start receiving Social Security survivors benefits based on age will remain at age 60.
Widows or widowers benefits based on age can start any time between age 60 and full retirement age as a survivor. If the benefits start at an earlier age, they are reduced a fraction of a percent for each month before full retirement age.
If a person receives widow’s or widower’s benefits, and will qualify for a retirement benefit that’s more than their survivors benefit, they can switch to their own retirement benefit as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. The rules are complicated and vary depending on the situation. Talk to a Social Security representative about the options available.
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What About The Earnings Test
Its hard to estimate the withholding and the recomputation of benefits at FRA. The earnings test is a huge hassle, so we generally recommend that clients wait until they stop working or turn FRA to file.
But in the cases were talking about here, if a widow fails to take one of the benefits before FRA, she may not ever be able to take advantage of it because shell be switching. For example, if Teresa, who will be taking her full survivor benefit at FRA, fails to take her own benefit from age 62 to 66, she will never be able to take it. So unless all of her benefits would be withheld for the earnings test, she might as well apply and get something. Heres how to estimate it. Take the annual benefit amount, multiply times 2 and add $16,920 . If annual earnings are above this amount, all benefits would be withheld. Teresas benefit would be $900 per month or $10,800 a year. Multiplying times 2 and adding $16,920 , it comes out to $38,520. If Teresa will earn more than $38,520 there would be no point in applying before FRA because all of her benefits would be withheld. But if she earns any amount less than $38,520 and would get even one check, its probably worth applying because shell be switching to the higher survivor benefit at FRA.
Chapter : How Are Social Security Survivor Benefits Calculated
When a worker pays into the Social Security system over the course of their life, they accumulate credits. A worker can receive up to four credits a year. For example, in 2020, workers will receive one credit for every $1,410 they earn. When your spouse has earned $5,640, they have earned their four credits for the year.
In order to claim retirement, a worker needs 40 credits. However, the number of credits required to provide survivor benefits for the workers family depends on the workers age when they die. This means that the younger a person is when they pass away, the fewer credits they will need for their family members receive survivor benefits.
When someone retires, or when they die, the amount of their benefit is calculated based on their earnings over their lifetime. This is the amount that survivors will receive all or part of. To calculate their benefit, Social Security adds up the workers income during the years they made the most money. They then index that total against average wages across the country during those years. This results in the workers Average Indexed Monthly Earnings . The Social Security Administration only includes the portion of a workers income up to the maximum taxable earnings limit. This is the amount that is taxed for Social Securityin 2020, thats $137,700. If your spouse earned more than that, the higher earnings will not be included in the calculation because these monies were not taxed by Social Security.
Did you Know?
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I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.
Got any words of wisdom you can offer on todays question? Share your knowledge and experiences on our. And if you find this information useful, please share it!
Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.
Just How Rare Are Nawi Declines
In the last 70 years of Social Security payments, a wage index decline has only happened once . But that decline was so inconsequential , that Congress didnt see any reason to act.
If the current decline in the NAWI remains the same for the remainder of 2020, Congress will have until about the end of 2021 to fix this predicament.
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How Can A Married Couple Maximize The Surviving Spouses Benefits
Im glad you asked! Many Americans are so excited to start collecting checks when they hit their sixties that they forget to plan a Social Security strategy that makes sense for their spouse, too. The age at which you begin taking retirement benefits affects how much your monthly payments will be for the rest of your life and beyond. Your filing age will set the amount that will go to your survivors as Social Security death benefits.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 changed the auxiliary benefit rules in important ways. First, as of April 30, 2016, the file-and-suspend strategy for maximizing spousal benefits is no longer allowed. That strategy allowed one member of a couple, usually the higher earner, to file for primary benefits at 62 and then suspend those benefits, allowing them to grow until the filer reached age 70. In the meantime, the first persons spouse would file for spousal benefits and let his/her own primary benefits grow. It was a lucrative strategy for those lucky folks who took advantage of it, but it has been phased out.
For everyone else, if you file for your own benefits before age 70 and then have a change of heart and decide you want to take advantage of Delayed Retirement Credits, you can still suspend your benefits. But if you suspend your benefits, any benefits based on your record will be suspended, too. Retirees who un-suspend their benefits will no longer get a lump sum payment as of April 30, 2016.