Social Security is an important source of retirement income, especially for women.
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But how well do you understand the benefits you’re due? Here are several important things women should know about Social Security before retirement.
1. Women Face Greater Financial Challenges in Retirement Than Men
More women rely on Social Security than men, yet their benefits are typically lower. After all, the more you work and pay taxes, the more Social Security credits you earn and the higher benefit you receive. Women also tend to receive smaller pensions and have fewer assets than men, yet they usually live longer, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). To avoid financial challenges in retirement, women should invest wisely and understand what Social Security benefits they’re entitled to receive.
2. You Can Receive Partial Benefits at 62 Years Old
As long as while you worked, you paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years and you earned at least 40 work credits, you can start receiving partial benefits at 62, according to the SSA. If you wait until full retirement age to begin receiving your benefits, you will receive 100% of your eligible benefits. The SSA deems “full retirement age” to be between 66 and 67, depending on your birth year. View the chart on page 7 of SSA Publication 05-10024 to see what your precise full retirement age is.
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3. Marriage Doesn’t Restrict Your Social Security Benefits
You and your spouse can file for Social Security benefits separately and individually, said Christopher Liew, a CFA charter holder and founder of Wealthawesome.com. But both of you must have worked previously and you must have separate service records.
“That means if you have a claim of $2,000 monthly and your spouse has a claim of $1,500 monthly, then your combined retirement benefits should reach $3,500 monthly instantly,” he said. “Surprisingly, you are not limited to receiving 50% of your spouse’s pension.”
4. If You’re Eligible for 2 Benefits, You’re Generally Paid the Higher Rate
If you’re married, you may be eligible for one-third to one-half of your spouse’s Social Security benefit. This is helpful for women with a low work record. However, you will likely only receive the benefit with the highest rate — not both. That’s why most working women in retirement receive their own Social Security benefit, not their spouse’s.
“The Social Security benefit paid to you as a spouse will be the higher amount between your spousal Social Security benefit and your Social Security benefit, respectively,” Liew said. “You can’t have both.”
5. Working During Retirement Can Decrease Your Social Security Payouts
You’re eligible to receive a reduced amount of your Social Security benefits at 62. But if you decide to keep working while receiving those benefits, the SSA will reduce your payouts by $1 for every $2 you earn above the annual limit, which is $21,240 in 2023.
If you keep working in the year you reach full retirement age, the SSA will reduce your benefits by only $1 for every $3 you earn over the annual limit ($56,520 in 2023). After that year, you will not have your benefits reduced this way.
6. Widows May Receive Their Spouse’s Social Security Benefits
At 60 years old, a widow can receive 71% of her deceased spouse’s benefits. This number rises to 100% once a widow reaches full retirement age.
If you were living with your spouse when they died, you may be eligible to receive a lump payment of $255 from the SSA.
7. If You’re Divorced, You May Still Be Eligible for Your Ex’s Benefits
You might think that once you’re divorced, you lose all the financial benefits that come with marriage. But when it comes to Social Security, that’s not necessarily the case.
If you and your ex-spouse were married at least 10 years and you’re currently unmarried, you may be able to receive benefits based on their work. (This doesn’t reduce the benefits they receive.)
“Just make sure that both of you weren’t married to someone else at the time of Social Security pension benefit eligibility,” Liew said. “The amount of Social Security pension that you can receive is dependent on the service record of your ex-spouse respectively.”
Some women might sign a decree during the divorce process to relinquish their rights to their ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits, but the SSA rarely enforces these decrees. If your ex-spouse has died, you can still receive benefits based on their work if you’re 60 or older (or 50 if you have a disability).
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