Social Security is more important for women than it is for men. Especially for women who have been divorced, widowed or remarried. In this video I’ll help you make sure you are getting the all the benefits that you are eligible to receive.
I have seen a lot of individuals who are not getting all of the social security benefits that they are entitled to receive. The vast majority of the time it’s a woman who is divorced, widowed, or remarried. So I think Social Security for women is a really important topic. I’m going to cover these rules so you’ll know how to determine which benefit you are eligible for but, first, I have the disclosures.
Cogent Advisory Group, which is me, is not part of, affiliated with, or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other government agency and, also this is not intended to give you any specific financial, legal, or tax advice. Please seek out your own competent advisors in these areas.
Okay, so let’s just come out and say it. Social security is more important for women than it is for men and that’s not just something that I think, that’s what the Social Security Administration says. In fact, in a recent report, they found that the average male benefit was $16,398, the average female was $12,520. Not only was the average female social security benefit lower, the importance of the income they were receiving from social security was higher. In this same report, the Social Security Administration found that females depend on social security to meet 50.4% of their income needs. Males count on social security for 35.9%. So, for most women, this is not an income stream that can be ignored or have bad planning applied.
I’ll share a recent story with you. A lady named Karen, in 1967, she married Joe and he died in 1979. Then, in 1983, she married Gary but, in 1998, they were divorced. Now, all of them had the following full retirement benefit amounts so Karen’s full retirement age benefit was $1700, Joe’s full retirement age benefit, who was deceased, was $1800, and Gary has a full retirement age benefit of $2000. Now, when Karen went into file, most of the social security technicians would not pick up nor ask if she had been married before Gary and they would only look at the difference between the spousal benefit from Gary and her own benefit and, in this case, her own benefit would be higher. So, if we look at the total amount of benefit that she would receive over her life expectancy all the way out to age 90, you’d see that it would go all the way out to about $421,000 in total benefits received. Now, if she was to go into the social security office and find a technician who was fairly astute, they may ask her about prior marriages or she may volunteer that information knowing some of this, as I’m hoping that you do now, and if she were to do that, Joe’s benefit would be slightly higher than the benefit she’s entitled to on her own record. Not only that, she could file for Joe’s benefit two years earlier because of the rules on survivor benefits and, so, going out over her life expectancy, her total lifetime benefits received would be about $577,000 but, without knowing the rules, one thing that probably would never happen is that the social security technician would discuss this strategy with Karen. What if, instead, she went in and filed for Joe’s benefit and, at age 70, she switched that to her own and, now, she’s had the benefit of the delayed retirement credits that have been applied to her own benefit and, at age 70, she starts to receive a much higher amount. Here’s the way that would look and it’s staggering. It’s more than twice the amount she would receive just simply filing for her own benefit. Now, these numbers are almost unbelievable, I get it, so I wanted to lay these out for you and show you the actual numbers so you might grasp this a little better. If she was to file for her own benefit at age 62, she would receive around $1275. I have applied a 1.5% cost of living adjustment to these benefits so you can see that they increase on a year-over-year basis so filing for her own benefit at age 90, she would have received $421,000 and some change. In the second scenario, if she filed for a survivor benefit, she could file a couple of years earlier and she would receive about $150,000 more in benefits than she would have simply filing for her own benefit but here’s where the combination strategy comes in. If she went in and filed for a survivor benefit just like she did in the second scenario with one small change, at age 70 she comes back and files for her own benefit. Just knowing that she can do that would make a tremendous difference. At that point, her benefit amount would step up to $2604 and total benefits paid at age 90 would be $929,000 and some change, nearly $1 million in social security benefits simply by knowing the rules.
I want to jump into this and explain to you exactly what you need to know so you can determine if you’re getting the right benefit or not. Before we do, there’s just a few basics I want to cover. Now, I did a whole video on social security basics and I’m going to put the link up on that on the screen now but I highly encourage you to go check that video out if you haven’t yet because it’s going to go into depth on survivor benefits and spousal benefits but we’ll go ahead and scratch the surface here.
A Quick Review of The Pertinent Basics
The first basic is the survivor benefit. A marriage must last for at least nine months for a spouse to be eligible for a survivor benefit. For a spousal benefit, the marriage must last at least one year and, as a divorced spouse, which you can qualify for either a survivor benefit or spousal benefit of your spouse, but in either situation, you must have been married for at least 10 years. Then, we have spousal benefits. With a spousal benefit, the lower earning spouse is entitled to the greater of a benefit on his/her own work record or 50% of the higher earning spouse’s full retirement benefit. Now, that is adjusted for claiming age and that’s one of the things that we go into great detail on on the social security basics video and then we have survivor benefits. Those are very simple. At the death of the first spouse, the surviving spouse receives the highest of his/her own benefit or the benefit of the deceased and it is also reduced for filing age and the lower benefit simply goes away. Those are the basics. Those are the things that’s most critical to understand as we move through the rest of this material.
Divorced Rules vs. Widowed Rules
I want to break this down into two categories. The first is for those who are divorced and then I want to cover benefits for those who are widowed and, I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of overlap between these two but I want to clearly articulate each of these categories so you can understand which box you belong in. Now, under these, I also want to break it down into further categories so, if your divorced, I want to break it down into a category where you have remarried and a subcategory where your ex-spouse is still alive or if your ex-spouse is deceased and then, if you have not remarried, the subcategory of the same thing. Then, under widowed, we simply want to look at if you have remarried and if you have not remarried.
Social Security and the Divorced Spouse
Let’s get started with those who are divorced and, first, let’s look at the rules for those who have remarried and your ex-spouse is still alive. For those individuals, you are not eligible for a spousal benefit under the ex-spouse but you are eligible for a spousal benefit from your current spouse if you’ve been married at least one year and, also, it’s important to understand that if your current marriage ends, you can choose from the highest amount of benefits available from any of your prior spouses as long as you met those length of marriage rules. Then, we’ll look at if you have remarried and your ex-spouse is deceased. The rules here are a little different because whether or not you’re eligible for a survivor benefit depends on the age when you got remarried. If you got remarried at age 60 or greater, then you could be eligible for survivor benefit on a prior spouse. If you got remarried before age 60, you are not eligible for survivor benefits on an ex-spouse but, again, if you’re not eligible for a survivor benefit from an ex-spouse because you got married too early and that marriage ends, you can go back and file for a survivor benefit from a prior spouse. Then, let’s look at if you have not remarried and your ex-spouse is still alive. In this situation, you would be eligible for a spousal benefit from that ex-spouse and, now, if you have not remarried and your ex-spouse is deceased, you are eligible for a survivor benefit from him. It’s also interesting to note that the claiming strategy rule changes do not apply to survivor benefits and that’s the rule that allows you to file for one benefit and then later switch to another. It applies to spousal benefits but it does not apply to the survivor benefits.
Social Security and the Widow
Now, let’s look at the rules for those who are widowed and they have remarried. This is where you’re going to start to find some of the overlap with those who are divorced. If you have remarried, you’re eligibility for a survivor benefit from your ex-spouse depends on the age you were remarried. If age 60 or greater, you are eligible for a survivor benefit but, if you were remarried at less than age 60, you are not eligible for a survivor benefit from your deceased spouse but, again, if that marriage ends, you can always switch back to a survivor benefit from that first deceased spouse. Then, if you have not remarried, then you are eligible for a survivor benefit from him and, let me reiterate, those claiming strategy rules do not apply to survivors so you can file for a survivor benefit and then later switch back to your own benefit if that makes sense for your situation.
Two Options for Help
Now, after seeing this, you might have some questions so there’s a couple of options for you to get answers. First is just do your research on the internet. There’s a tremendous amount of information out there. The second is do a consultation with me. Let’s go over these two options real quick and give you some of the pros and cons.
The first, the internet research, we know that one of the good things about it is it’s free. One of the bad things, though, is that it’s very time consuming. It’s hard to know if the information is applicable to your situation and, sometimes, there’s just bad information online. Then, you have the consultation with me. One of the bad things about that is it’s not free. It’s not terribly expensive but, again, not free but some of the good things is that the information is very clear. It’s very quick and it’s accurate.
I would encourage you to sit down and check your benefit eligibility. Make sure you are getting all of the benefits that you are entitled to receive. Are you sure you’re receiving the right one? Should it be your benefit? Should it be an ex-spouse’s benefit?
You know, I still remember of the story of Sue. Her apartment wasn’t quite the nice comfortable place that it used to be and, sometimes, she was scared at night. She didn’t like walking back and forth between her car and the door and would often get someone to accompany her on that trip to see her safely inside but she didn’t have enough income to be able to move out into another apartment so she came to see me, not about her housing situation, but about her social security situation. She thought that there might be something else that she was entitled to. She had been married twice. One husband was still alive and one was deceased. Sue was receiving a survivor benefit off of her second husband, which the technician at the social security office told her was the highest benefit that she was entitled to but what the technician failed to do was to ask her about other prior marriages and so as we started digging into these prior marriages, it took a simple phone call for us to ask the Social Security Administration what her spousal benefit would be off of this first marriage. As it turns out, it was about a $400 per month increase to her social security benefit. Now, for a lot of people, $400 a month is not going to change the rules but, for her, it meant that she could move into some accommodations that were much nicer, that were gaited. Now, she has a code to get in and out and she can sleep with complete peace of mind. Are we going to have those kind of results for everyone? Absolutely not, but you owe it to yourself to jump in and find out and make sure that you’re getting all of the benefits that you’re entitled to.
I hope you found this video to be helpful and insightful and, please, share it with someone. Watch the other videos in our channel and visit our blog at socialsecurityintelligence.com. There’s lots of great articles in there that will give you the tools you need to make sure you’re informed. If you still need my help after you’ve done some of this research, feel free to look at the right-hand sidebar in my website and click the Need Help icon. You can set up a time with me and we’ll talk on the phone and get your situation straightened out. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.