Social Security plays an especially important role in providing economic security for women. On average, women make less money than men during their careers and yet they end up living longer—a double whammy. A woman who is 65 years old today can expect to live to about 87, whereas a 65-year-old man will most likely die prior to 85.
While it was never meant to fully cover one’s needs in retirement, Social Security does provide an inflation-protected benefit that will last as long as you live. The longer you wait to begin taking your benefit, the higher your monthly benefit will be. For example, the maximum benefit for a person retiring in 2017 is $2,687 per month. This assumes that the person is retiring at age 66 and has earned at least the Social Security income limit for a minimum of 35 years. If that same person waited until age 70 to claim their benefit, the monthly payment would be $3,538, or more than $10,000 per year than if they had claimed at 66. For a person whose life expectancy is 87, it is a much better deal to wait until age 70.
Here are the top 10 things women need to know about Social Security benefits:
- If you work for at least 10 years and paid into the system for 40 quarters, you are entitled to a Social Security benefit.
- If you are married, you can claim one-half of your husband’s benefit (and this doesn’t reduce his benefit). You would only do this if 50% of his benefit was greater than 100% of your own benefit—you don’t get both.
- If you are not currently married, but were married to your ex for at least 10 years, you can claim one-half of his benefit (just as if you were still married). You may even be able to claim a benefit if he has not yet begun to take his benefit.
- If you were born on or before 1/01/54, you are eligible to claim spousal benefits on your husband’s earnings record when you turn 66, allowing your own retirement benefits to continue to grow by 8% per year up to age 70.
- If your husband is collecting either Social Security retirement or disability benefits and you are caring for his minor child or a permanently disabled child, you may be eligible for a spousal benefit regardless of your age.
- If you are a surviving spouse and you are entitled to your own benefit, you can choose whether to collect your retirement benefit or your survivor benefit first, and then switch to the other benefit later if it makes sense. A widow is eligible for between 71% (at age 60) and 100% (at full retirement age) of what the husband was getting before they passed away.
- If you become disabled before your full retirement age, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits (assuming you worked in five of the past ten years).
- Social Security calculates your benefit based on your 35 highest earning years. If you only work 34 years, you get a “zero” for the 35th Therefore, it can make sense to make sure you have been employed (and paid into the system) for at least 35 years.
- If you change your name, make sure you report the change to Social Security. Otherwise, your earnings may be improperly recorded. Even if you don’t change your name, it’s a good idea to review your earnings record at ssa.org on a regular basis to make sure that your earnings history is correct.
- Before you apply for benefits, talk to Social Security about your options, but also talk to your financial advisor to make sure that you have considered all your options. You can apply for Social Security online or in person. The monthly benefit can be sent directly to your checking account.