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Retirement Planning > Social Security

5 things every working woman should know about Social Security

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If you can recall the 1968 advertising slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” you’re likely starting to think about your Social Security benefits. With women accounting for nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, it’s important to understand the basic rules that will affect the amount of your Social Security benefit when you become eligible. 

From a retirement professional’s experience, here are the top five things you need to know:

1. Nothing keeps you from receiving your own Social Security benefit.  

If you’ve worked for at least 10 years, and earned a minimum of 40 work credits, you’re eligible for your own Social Security benefit whether you’re single or married. For married women, this rule applies whether or not your husband is receiving Social Security or if he chooses to work beyond full retirement age.

However, if you’re also eligible for a pension from a job in which you didn’t pay Social Security taxes (a civil service or teacher’s pension, for example), your Social Security benefit may be reduced. In the event you become disabled before full retirement age, you may qualify for disability benefits if you paid Social Security taxes in five of the preceding 10 years.


2. There is no marriage penalty or limit to benefits paid to a married couple.

A working woman is not limited to one-half of her husband’s Social Security benefit. This rule only applies to women who have never worked outside the home.

You and your husband will each receive your own Social Security benefit. For example, if your monthly Social Security benefit is $1,200, and your husband’s is $1,400, as a couple you will receive $2,600 per month in total benefits.

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3. If you’re due two benefits, you get the one that pays the higher rate, not both.

Most working women are potentially eligible for two Social Security benefits: your own and the spousal benefit on your husband’s record. You’ll receive the higher benefit of the two but not both.

For example, a spousal benefit ranges from a third to one half of your husband’s Social Security rate. But, if the your own benefit is calculated at more than a third or one half your husband’s, you will receive the higher amount. If your husband predeceases you, you can then apply for the higher widow’s rate (see 5).

See also: 3 end-of-year focus areas for employee benefit plan administrators


4. If you were married at least 10 years before divorcing, you’re eligible for Social Security calculated on your ex-husband’s record.  

If you’ve been divorced for 10 or more years, you’re eligible to receive Social Security based on your ex-husband’s earnings if you are unmarried at time you apply for benefits. Keep in mind, the amount you receive on you ex-husband’s record does not reduce Social Security benefits paid to him or to his current spouse.  

In some divorce cases, women have signed divorce agreements relinquishing their rights to their ex-husband’s Social Security record. But if you were married at least 10 years before divorcing him, this clause in a divorce decree is never enforced.

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5. When your husband or ex-husband passes away, you’re probably eligible for a widow’s benefit.

For married women, your survivor benefit amount is based on the earnings of your husband. The more he paid into Social Security, the higher your benefits will be. However, the monthly amount depends on your age when he passes away. The rate ranges from 71% at age 60 to 100% at full retirement age. To bring your Social Security benefit up to the higher “widow’s rate,” you’re first paid your own retirement benefit then the difference is added to your benefit.

The same rule generally apples for divorced women who are not married at the time of their ex-husband’s death. This means a divorced woman collects her own Social Security while her ex-husband is alive but she can apply for the higher widow’s rate when he passes away.

For complete details about women’s Social Security benefits, you can download this free 24-page booklet prepared by the Social Security Administration “What Every Woman Should Know.” 


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