What Women Should Know About Social Security
By: Karyn Damschen
On average, women live about ten years longer than men. Women also tend to earn less than men over the course of their lifetimes. Lower wages are often due to circumstances such as working from home, raising children or caring for elderly or ill family members. Given these two facts – longer life and less income – it is especially important that women understand the complexities of Social Security in order to maximize their benefits.
A recent study noted that 40% of women claimed benefits early- at age 62 – and only 3% were 70 years old when they claimed their Social Security benefits. Age 62 is the earliest benefits can be claimed (except for widows benefits) and age 70 is the age at which you would receive your maximum benefit from Social Security. When claiming Social Security benefits prior to your Full Retirement Age (FRA) you will receive a reduced payment amount – losing as much as 30% of the potential payment at FRA.[i] Since women retiring today may live thirty years or more after claiming their Social Security, it’s critical to understand all of your options. I encourage you to visit the Social Security website SSA.gov, or even your local office, to review your specific details and ensure everything is accurate.[ii] As a certified Social Security Advisor, I frequently hold workshops and one-on-one consultations to help guide women through the maze of Social Security. Please note that the information in this article is not intended to be construed as individual advice
If you worked for at least ten years at jobs where you paid into Social Security, and you have earned a minimum of 40 work credits (one credit for each quarter worked), then you are eligible to receive Social Security benefits beginning at age 62. If you did not work the 40 quarters, but your spouse did (and you were married for at least 10 years), then you can collect on your spouse’s benefit. Work credits do not have to be earned consecutively and can be spread out over a lifetime of working.[iii] Benefit payments are based on an average earned in your 35 highest-earning years in the workforce, which is why women, who often step out of the workforce to raise children and care for family, tend to receive lower benefits in comparison to men who more frequently maintain full-time jobs with higher salaries. Women also tend to retire and claim their benefits earlier, ultimately diminishing their potential returns throughout their retired years.
If you are eligible for a government pension, this may further reduce or eliminate your Social Security benefit as well. You may be subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) or the Government Pension Offset (GPO).
Marriage and Social Security
If you and your spouse both meet the eligibility requirement, then you both will receive your own, individual Social Security benefits. If you did not work or if you did not met the eligibility minimums on your own, then you are entitled to one-half of your husbands benefits but will not receive your own. Whether you are claiming your own benefits, or claiming on a spouse’s benefit, if you claim your benefits before Full Retirement Age (FRA) (approximately age 66), you will receive a reduced benefit. Women especially need to understand that early filing for benefits not only reduces the benefit in the short term, but that reduction is permanent and sets the baseline for all future payments. In the event you and your spouse are both claiming your own benefits and one of you dies, the remaining spouse will step into the higher of the two benefits.
If you worked enough quarters to qualify, and you are married, Social Security will not pay out two benefits, you would receive whichever is a higher amount – your own benefit or 50% of your spouse’s benefit. Also, note that if you are planning to claim on a spouse’s benefit, you cannot file to claim that benefit until the spouse has filed and claimed.
If you are divorced, but were married for at least ten years, and are unmarried at the time you reach Social Security eligibility, then you are entitled to claim on your ex-spouses’ benefits. This payment does not alter the amount that goes to the ex-spouse or their current spouse if they remarried.
If your spouse, or ex-spouse, passes away before you do, you may be entitled to a widow’s benefit. That benefit depends on your age at the time of their passing as widows benefits can be claimed as early as age 60, however, if you claim the benefit at age 60 you may only receive 71% of benefits. If you wait to claim your widow’s benefit until YOUR FRA, then you will receive 100% of your spouse’s benefits. Since Social Security will not pay out twice, as mentioned earlier, you will receive whichever payment is the higher amount. If you’re living with your spouse when they pass, there is also a one-time death benefit of $255.
Social Security was never intended to be the sole source of income for retirees. The program was intended to supplement other savings, pensions etc. throughout retirement, however, for for 32% of Social Security recipients today, their Social Security benefit represents 90% of their income!
Delaying claiming your Social Security benefit from Full Retirement Age to age 70 can increase your benefit payout by about 32%, or 8% for each year you wait to claim after FRA.[iv] The credits earned from FRA to age 70 are called Delayed Retirement Credits (DRC).
Here’s a very basic illustration of the differences in claiming strategies:
EXAMPLE: Susan is eligible for a monthly $1000 Social Security payment at her FRA of 66.
If she collects her benefit at age 62, her payment will be permanently reduced by 25% to $750 per month.
If she waits and collects her benefit at age 70, her payment will be 32% higher or a permanent increase to $1320 per month.
If we assume she lives to age 90 (collecting benefits for 24 years) check out the tremendous variance in Susan’s total bottom line:
Collecting at age 62 ($750 per month): $216,000
Collecting at FRA age 66 ($1000 per month): $288,000
Collecting at age 70 ($1320 per month): $380,160
Over the course of Susan’s retirement, she would be giving up more than $164,000 if she chooses to take her benefits at age 62 vs. allowing them to grow to age 70.
** Please note, this is a very simple example and these numbers are intended to illustrate a rough idea of the potential differences in collection strategies. Please visit SSA.gov to run accurate illustrations on your own claiming strategies.
It’s imperative that women nearing retirement age take a close look at their finances, savings, and other income sources before activating their Social Security. Of course, life has a way of interfering with the very best of plans and delaying your benefits may not be the right choice for you. Women are 80% more likely than men to be impoverished at the age of 65, and 50% of retired women report that Social Security was their largest or main source of income.[v] Because women tend to live longer on less, it is imperative to be proactive and understand your benefit eligibility and options. Using that information, you can plan long before retirement, which will provide clarity and peace of mind for your long-term security.
For assistance and guidance on Social Security, Medicare or other retirement questions please do not hesitate to reach out to me. 520-399-6340 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For assistance and guidance on Social Security, Health Insurance or other Insurance questions please do not hesitate to reach out. Please call me 520-399-6340 or email me at email@example.com.