Social Security Claiming Strategies For Single, Divorced & Widowed Women

By Brett Gottlieb

At its inception, Social Security was fundamentally a social insurance program created to pay a continuing income after retirement for those age 65 or older.[1] It was created in the 1930s, when life and family dynamics looked drastically different than they do today. One area where this is dramatically highlighted is when it comes to women’s roles in the home and workforce.

Generally speaking, today’s modern woman works full-time, earns less than her male counterparts,[2] lives longer than they do,[3] and steps up as a caregiver when elderly parents[4] and young kids[5] need her most, especially in this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the disadvantages of less pay, longer life spans, and shorter time in the workforce, women should carefully consider how and when they claim Social Security so they don’t get short-changed later on in life.

But the stakes are even higher for women that are single, divorced, or widowed. Nearly 50% of older, single women get at least 90% of their income from Social Security, compared to only 21% of married women.[6] This statistic shows that single women are more dependent on Social Security than any other population. If you fall into this category, here’s what you need to know about claiming your benefits.

For The Single Women

Many women make the mistake of claiming Social Security as soon as they’re eligible. Few wait until full retirement age, and even fewer wait until age 70. But your benefit amount increases by 8% each year from 66 to 70, plus cost of living increases for inflation, so it pays to wait.[7]

For example, let’s say your full retirement age is 66 and your monthly payment is estimated to be $2,000. The chart below shows how much you’d get every month if you started collecting at age 62 (reduced benefits), 66 (full benefits), and 70 (increased benefits).

If you start collecting benefits at this age…

your monthly payout will be this much…

62

$1,500

66

$2,000

70

$2,640

Just by waiting until age 70, your monthly payout increases by 32% each month, which could lead to thousands of more dollars throughout your retirement.[8]

But when you should claim benefits isn’t as simple as waiting until age 70. Your health, home, and personal circumstances could indicate otherwise. Maybe you find out you have advanced-stage breast cancer, so you start taking benefits at age 62. Or maybe you are in good health, so you use other accounts to fund retirement while you wait until age 70. Tailoring your claiming strategy to your unique life circumstances is key, and a professional can help you take all factors into account.

For Those Who Are Divorced

This may come as a surprise, but divorcées can claim their ex-spouse’s benefits as long as they were married for at least 10 years. The amount you receive is equal to 50% of your ex’s benefits. If you qualify for your own benefits, you either receive 100% of your benefit amount or 50% of your ex’s, whichever is higher.[9]

If your ex passes away, you receive benefits as a widow, which means you get 100% of your ex’s payout. The best part? Your ex never has to know you’re collecting spousal benefits. Social Security doesn’t notify them and you’re not required to reach out. There is one caveat to this rule, however. You won’t qualify for spousal benefits if you remarry. Your ex can, but you can’t. Although, if you happen to remarry and your second marriage ends in divorce or your spouse dies, you’d once again be eligible for your first spouse’s benefits. 

For The Widows

Widows and divorcées who were married for at least a decade are eligible for survivor benefits when a spouse dies. Just keep in mind that you won’t qualify for survivor benefits if you remarry before age 60.

As with regular Social Security payouts, you receive reduced benefits if you claim them before you reach full retirement age. But unlike regular payouts, you don’t have to wait until you’re 70 to get the highest amount.

The chart below shows what percentage of survivor benefits you’d get based on your situation:[10] 

Widow Type

Benefit Amount Before Retirement Age

Benefit Amount At Full Retirement Age

Widow

71.5% to 99% (starting at age 60)

100%

Disabled Widow

71.5% (starting at age 50)

100%

Widow With Child Under Age 16

75% (at any age)

100%

Meet With A Financial Professional

Social Security is an intricate puzzle with many pieces, so attempting to go at it alone may not be the best course of action. To gain clarity and help maximize your benefits, it’s best to work with a financial professional.

Our team at Comprehensive Advisor can help you evaluate your options and choose a claiming strategy based on your unique situation. We are here to walk with you as you navigate Social Security, and the rest of your financial journey as well. If you have questions about Social Security or you need help developing a big-picture financial plan, email us at info@ComprehensiveAdvisor.com or call (760) 813-2125.

About Our Advisors

Brett Gottlieb is the founder of Comprehensive Advisor and a financial advisor with nearly two decades of industry experience. He graduated from California State University-Chico with two bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Economics. Brett is Life Insurance licensed in several states. He is passionate about guiding his clients on retirement income planning, helping each client pursue their specific retirement goals and defending the assets his clients have worked so hard to achieve. Brett is a California native and currently resides in San Elijo Hills with his beautiful wife and three children.

With a combined experience of over three decades in the financial services industry, our advisors hail from some of the largest independent broker/dealers and banking institutions in the country. They have dedicated their professional careers to creating personalized financial solutions for individuals and families who seek successful retirement planning and currently offer investment advisory services through AE Wealth Management, LLC. Our advisors take a common-sense approach to the planning process and work with clients to create a retirement road map to help ensure their assets are protected and they receive the income needed to enjoy their future. Based in Carlsbad, California, they work with clients throughout San Diego County and beyond. Learn more by connecting with Brett on LinkedIn or email them at info@ComprehensiveAdvisor.com.

Comprehensive Advisor, LLC is an independent financial services firm that utilizes a variety of investment and insurance products. Investment advisory services offered only by duly registered individuals through AE Wealth Management, LLC (AEWM). AEWM and Comprehensive Advisor are not affiliated companies. C.A. Financial & Insurance Services, CA Ins. Lic. #6000262. This material is intended to provide general information and is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. Neither the firm nor its representatives may give tax or legal advice. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. Any references to protection benefits, safety, security, lifetime income, etc. generally refer to fixed insurance products, never securities or investment products. Insurance and annuity product guarantees are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. 945309-6/21

[1] https://www.ssa.gov/history/briefhistory3.html#:~:text=The%20Social%20Security%20Act%20was,a%20continuing%20income%20after%20retirement.

[2] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/25/gender-pay-gap-facts/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5789901/

[4] https://www.agingcare.com/articles/daughters-care-more-for-parents-than-sons-171474.htm

[5] https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2019/03/28/467488/child-care-crisis-keeping-women-workforce/

[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/26/cuts-to-social-security-would-hurt-older-single-women-most-of-all.html

[7] https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/delayret.html

[8] https://www.ssa.gov/oact/quickcalc/early_late.html

[9] https://www.investopedia.com/articles/financial-advisor/112216/divorce-and-new-social-security-rules-what-know.asp#:~:text=The%20basic%20rules%20for%20divorced,age%2062%20and%20currently%20single

[10] https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/ifyou.html

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