What You Need to Know
- Welcome to the fifth installment of Connecting the Dots, the column where Marcia Mantell discusses real-life decisions around Social Security claiming and retirement.
- A spouse always holds onto their own SS benefits, even if they remarry.
- If a wife survives both her ex and her current spouse, she can claim whichever survivor benefit is higher.
You met “Tammy” in the September “Connecting the Dots” column. She’s an ex-wife whose financial life was turned upside down when her husband of 32 years left her high and dry after she retired. She wrote to me about her situation, asking how she might get a higher Social Security benefit.
What happens if Tammy remarries?
Rumors and misinformation abound when it comes to Social Security. One of the questions Tammy asked was:
I have been told that since I started to collect Social Security at 62, I cannot remarry and still receive my payment each month. I would like to remarry, but we would need my Social Security. Why doesn’t the man lose his check when he remarries?
There’s quite a bit to unpack with her questions.
What Your Peers Are Reading
When do Social Security benefits stop after remarriage?
It’s correct that benefits stop if a divorced person remarries. But that’s not the whole story.
Remarriage causes an ex-spouse to lose their benefit — but only if it is based on the other ex’s work record. This rule applies whether it’s the ex-wife or the ex-husband who remarries. Social Security is gender agnostic with these rules.
Connecting the dots in Tammy’s case, we need to understand that the benefit she currently receives ($850 per month, reduced from her $1,130 full benefit for claiming early) is based on her own individual work history. No one loses their own benefit when they remarry.
If she were collecting an ex-spousal benefit based on her ex-husband’s work history (as a dependent ex-spouse), she would forfeit that benefit upon remarriage. In this case, Tammy can indeed remarry and keep her own Social Security benefit.
Can Tammy collect more in Social Security benefits after remarriage?
Perhaps, but not on her ex-husband. Once she’s married for 12 months to her new husband, Tammy will be eligible for any spousal top-up benefits on his record.