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Social Security plays a key role in many Americans’ retirement plans. Understanding the benefits available in different situations is important, especially for women. According to the Social Security Administration, the median earnings for women are approximately 80% of men’s earnings. This means that women will receive less Social Security than men, but generally women will rely more heavily on these benefits than their male counterparts. Additionally, women tend to live longer than men; therefore, they rely on Social Security benefits even more.

Your Social Security Retirement Benefits

The amount of Social Security you will receive in retirement is based on the number of years you worked and the amount of wages you earned. You need to have worked at least 10 years to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits on your own record.

The more you earned during your working years, the higher your benefits will be. If your spouse’s benefits are much higher than yours or you do not have enough credits to qualify for benefits on your own, you may be able to take half of your spouse’s benefits at retirement.

A Unique Option for Those Born Before January 2, 1954

One strategy to consider is filing a restricted application. This strategy is available only to those born before January 2, 1954. You would file to collect half of your spouse’s benefits while allowing your own benefits to continue growing each year, ultimately collecting at age 70.

This strategy may work well if your husband has larger benefits and you are able to collect on your own record. In this case, you would start collecting on your own record, your husband would take half of your benefits and then he would wait to collect his own benefit at age 70 (benefits increase 8% per year from full retirement age to age 70). If you outlive your husband, this strategy would allow for higher survivor benefits after his death.

Survivor Benefits

Social Security can help offset the damaging effects of a spouse’s premature death. As a widow, you can collect Social Security survivor benefits at any age if you care for children younger than 16. Children in the household will also receive benefits if they are under 18. These benefits are subject to a family’s maximum benefit. If you don’t have children or they are over 18, you can start receiving survivor benefits as early as age 60, though these benefits will be reduced if taken before full retirement age (age 67, if born in 1960 or later).

Ex-Spouse Benefits

Social Security benefits can also apply in the case of divorce. You may receive a higher benefit if half of your ex-husband’s benefits are more than benefits on your own record. You would need to have been married for at least 10 years, be currently unmarried, and be at least age 62. Your ex-husband does not need to have started his own Social Security benefits in order for you to qualify as long as he is 62 or older and you have been divorced for two years. If your ex-husband is deceased, you can begin collecting benefits as early as age 60. If you’d like to learn more about survivor benefits, we’ve assembled a list seven things you need to know about social security survivor benefits.

Additional Resources for Social Security Benefits

As you can see, there are many different ways to collect Social Security benefits.

Check out the Social Security Administration’s website for resources just for women!


This is intended for educational purposes only and should not be construed as personalized tax or financial advice. Please consult your tax and financial professionals regarding your specific circumstances.

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