Decisions about filing for Social Security benefits will affect you financially for the rest of your life. And if you have gotten divorced in the past, or are preparing for divorce now, you may qualify to receive Social Security on the work record of your ex-spouse, and later on your own work record, if you qualify under the current rules of choosing which benefits to file for and when. You must meet several requirements for qualifying to receive these benefits; and also must consider at what age to start taking those benefits. This option should be considered and factored into your financial divorce strategy.
Here are the basic rules for qualifying for Social Security benefits on the work record of your ex-spouse:
- You must be at least age 62 and married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or more;
- Your divorce must have been final at least two years before you file;
- Your ex-spouse must have reached the age at which he or she is eligible to receive a retirement or disability benefit;
- You are not entitled to a higher Social Security benefit under your own work record at the time of filing; and
- You must be unmarried.
If you meet all the above criteria, and you have reached your full retirement age (that age is now 66 for people born from 1943 to Jan. 1, 1954, and 67 for those born January 2, 1954 and beyond), you may have a filing option to consider. If you were born before January 2, 1954, and have reached full retirement age, you can choose to receive a percentage of your divorced spouse’s benefit, and delay receiving your retirement benefit until a later date.
However, if your birthday is January 2, 1954 or later, this option is no longer available to you. So, if you file for one benefit, you will be effectively filing for either all your own retirement benefits, or a percentage of your divorced spouse’s benefits, whichever is more.
Any benefit you get does not affect the amount your former spouse, or his or her current spouse, may receive. And the remarriage of the ex-spouse has no bearing on your ability to file under his or her earnings record. It is only your own remarriage that revokes your eligibility to file under his or her work record. If you remarry and are married to a second spouse for 10 years or more and divorce, you can take the benefit from either ex, whichever is greater. By the way, Social Security’s regulations and policies are gender-neutral and apply equally for men and women.
At what age should I apply?
If you contributed to your own Social Security benefits, it may well be greater than 50 percent of your ex-spouse’s benefits. You may need to file under his or her earnings record (a spousal benefit), due to certain circumstances, but if your benefits will be greater, you would be wise to wait if possible. For instance, if you have a $1,400 per month benefit coming at age 66, but would be entitled to only $800 per month by filing under your exes’ earnings record, naturally, you would wish to apply for benefits under your own record.
Note that if you want to file under your ex-spouse’s benefit, the ex-spouse must be old enough to file for Social Security. He or she does not have to apply for those benefits, but must be eligible.
What if you have no Social Security earnings record?
You are still eligible for the Spousal Benefit if you need it under your ex-spouse if the above requirements are met. You can also still decide at what age to apply for your Social Security benefits — at age 62, 66 or later, in order to secure the delayed retirement credit. Assuming you have other income sources, the best choice would be to allow your benefits to continue to earn that 8 percent per year deferred retirement credit increase as long as possible.
What are your options if your ex-spouse dies?
If your ex-spouse dies, you can access a “widow’s benefit” as early as age 60. Once again, you must have been married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or more. However, if you remarry before age 60, you will not be eligible to take the widow’s benefit. But, if you are over age 60 and remarry, you are still eligible to receive a widow’s benefit.
Since each case is unique and the laws are subject to change, it’s best if you consult with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, like myself. We are trained specifically in this area and knowledgeable about maximizing your Social Security benefits following divorce, from within the context of your total financial situation. Knowledge is power, even when it comes to Social Security. For more specific information on Social Security, visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
Each divorce situation is unique, with its own set of circumstances and financial issues. The information in this column is meant to provide a guideline. For more information on divorce financial planning, contact Patricia at 832-858-0099.