As I have mentioned previously, women have fundamentally different savings and investment needs and challenges than men. Longer expected lifespans, fewer years in the workforce (with resulting lower balances in IRA, 401K, 403B, and other retirement accounts), and a persistent wage gap all mean that women need to be purposeful, directed, and strategic when it comes to planning for retirement and other long-term financial considerations.
Without question, Social Security is central to virtually everyone’s retirement strategy. For women, this is doubly true. And, as with other financial aspects of life, there are some special considerations that women in transition should keep in mind when thinking about Social Security.
1. The longer you can wait to claim benefits, the bigger your monthly check. While you can claim Social Security as early as age 62 (“early retirement”), you will receive a reduced benefit for the rest of your life. For those born between 1943 and 1954, full retirement age—when you can begin receiving your full benefit—is 66. If you were born in 1955, your full retirement age is 66 years and 2 months. For 1956, add two months to the age for 1955 (and the same applies for years 1957–59; in other words, those born in 1959 reach full retirement age at 66 years and 10 months). For those born in 1960 and later, full retirement age is 67. But you aren’t required to begin taking benefits at your full retirement age. In fact, for every year you wait beyond your full retirement age, your monthly benefit increases, up to a maximum of 132% of your full benefit if you delay until age 70 (no further increases occur after age 70).
2. Married women have additional Social Security options. For example, if one spouse makes a higher income than the other (and thus has more paid into the Social Security system), that spouse might choose to delay benefits until age 70. The other spouse might choose to begin receiving early benefits. Even with the reduced amount received by the lower-earning spouse, the amount of household income from Social Security could be greater over time. And by the way, even if the lower-earning spouse did not actually work outside the home, they are still eligible for a spousal Social Security benefit, which can be claimed as early as age 62, as described above.
3. Social Security options for divorced women. Those who have been divorced for at least two years and haven’t remarried can claim up to 50% of their ex-spouse’s Social Security benefit, as long as the marriage lasted for at least 10 years. To qualify, you must be at least 62 years of age, your ex-spouse must be eligible to claim Social Security benefits, and the benefit you receive from the ex-spouse’s Social Security must be greater than what you would receive based on your own work history. Even if your ex-spouse has not retired or is not collecting their benefits, you are eligible, if you meet the other requirements, and claiming these benefits will not reduce the benefit otherwise payable to your ex-spouse.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a resource page devoted specifically to women: see https://www.ssa.gov/people/women/. This is a great place to start your research as you decide on the best Social Security strategy for your individual situation.
As a fiduciary financial advisor, I help women in transition and other clients make smart decisions for retirement, including strategies for claiming Social Security. If you would value greater clarity about your future resources, click here for a complimentary second opinion on your retirement plan and strategy.
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