Questions Women Ask Us About Social Security

Terri Spath |

Women have a lot of questions about Social Security: will it be around when it's time for me to tap in? how does the spousal benefit work? how much will I get?

No government program touches so many directly - nearly all Americans can expect to receive the benefit during their lifetimes.

We answer 3 top questions for you here.

Is Social Security financially secure? Should women in their 60s wait until their maximum benefit amount or file as early as possible, in case the money runs out in 20 years?

Unless Congress takes action, Social Security could run out of money by 2035. Why? Baby boomers are retiring faster than younger workers are paying into the program. Plus, people are living longer than expected when plans were set up. The projected shortfall is an obvious source of worry, but we think the 2035 doomsday scenario will not happen. New tax revenues, benefit cuts, or some combination could put Social Security back into balance. Given the importance of this benefit to so many Americans, we think there is a high chance that Congress will come up with a solution.

WWhat is the "spousal benefit" and how does it work for a married woman, widow or divorcess?

- If you have been married for at least one year, you can claim 50% of your spouse's benefit (when you are 62 or older). This makes sense if your own full benefit is lower than half your spouse's benefit. However, your spouse has to have already claimed as well.

- If you were married at least 9 months and then widowed, you can claim 100% of your spouse's benefit as a survivor's benefit.

- If you are divorced, have not remarried and were married for 10 years or more, you can file and receive your ex-spouse's benefit amount so long as your ex is over 62 and you've been divorced more than 2 years. If your ex is deceased and you remarried, you can claim on that benefit if you remarried after age 60. Otherwise, if you remarried, you lose the ability to claim on your ex's benefit.

Why do so many articles suggest waiting until after 70 to claim Social Security?

Here's how your benefit amount works: your full retirement age is likely 66. If you take Social Security at 62, the earliest age when you can claim, you get money now, but it's 75% of the amount you get if you wait until 66 - and this reduced amount lasts your lifetime. For each year after 66 that you wait, you collect 8% more (until age 70). Here is a quick rule-of-thumb for you:  if you will live until 83 or more, it's a better idea to wait  - you'll get more every year and that higher level lasts a lifetime. If you feel that 83 is a stretch, it makes more sense to claim at 66 or earlier. Of course you don't know the answer to how long you live, so that is when your judgment and individual life journey comes into the decision.

These high-leve answers and guidelines are designed to be helpful, but are not comprehensive nor customized for you and your unique circumstances. If you have questions about your particular situation, we can provide more detailed information for you.

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