In working with women over a certain age, I have identified a significant gap in their finances when it comes to surviving in retirement. The gap occurs when women are left with maintaining their household expenses alone. This could be due to the death of a spouse, divorce, or even not making enough money while working their nine-to-five pre-retirement. Here are a few examples of how women living on Social Security are surviving and a few tips on how you can plan for your Social Security benefits eligibility.
Social Security Benefits Eligibility Planning - Are you eligible?
Living on Social Security After Divorce
Mary was in a dire situation when it came to managing her finances. She had just been let go from a job after returning to work after her divorce. The job did not provide any benefits since it was a contract opportunity. Mary was told that the organization constantly sought government contracts and needed an experienced contract writer to submit grant requests. After a while, Mary found herself out of a job and was replaced by someone younger and more technologically savvy.
Mary thought that she had a long-lasting opportunity and had incurred an insurmountable amount of debt. After losing her job, she consolidated her debt but was still struggling. When I spoke to Mary, we found other ways for her to reduce her expenses and determined that the debt consolidation company had taken advantage of her. We got her out of the contract and eliminated some of her other expenses, enabling her to have monthly money for groceries.
Mary's situation is similar to many others that depend on a spouse with a high-paying job to sustain them throughout retirement. Mary never thought her spouse would leave her for a younger woman, with all the debt they had incurred throughout their 30-plus-year marriage. Today, Mary lives solely on her Social Security, has found great supplemental benefits using her Medicare supplement plan, and she's finding new ways to save, budget, and survive financially. It shows you that finding financial success and independence is never too late.
Living on Social Security Without Retirement
Shawna, a mother of five, has found that she now lives in rent-controlled housing after raising her children and providing for them and her grandkids throughout her lifetime. Shawna went without many times while she was growing up and wanted to ensure that her kids had the best education and wanted for nothing. This led to her living on a fixed income from Social Security during retirement.
Shawna tried to find ways to afford food, travel, and basic living expenses. If Shawna attempted to find an additional source of income, she could lose her rent-controlled apartment and the limited stipend she gets for food assistance. Since Shawna did not have a career that enabled her to invest in a pension or other retirement plan, Social Security benefits are her only income.
Shawna wanted to be able to provide for her grandkids, visit her children who live out of state, and travel in retirement. However, her impulsive shopping habit limited her ability to do any of these things. Working with Shawna, we found various ways for her to maximize her Social Security benefits without reaching the benefits cliff that so many others face.
Are stay-at-home mothers eligible for Social Security?
Maybe. As a stay-at-home mother, if you have not earned enough credits to qualify for social security retirement by working, you will not be eligible for Social Security benefits when you reach retirement age. However, if you've been married to your spouse for at least ten years, you may be eligible for spousal benefits. If you've divorced your spouse and remain unmarried, you may qualify for spousal benefits after divorce. You will not be eligible for Social Security benefits under your ex-spouse if you're divorced and have been married for less than ten years. It's important to note that these benefits will be calculated based on your age, spouse's age, and numerous other factors.
See my feature in Forbes Why Is It Normal For You To Worry About Retirement Before You Retire?
Am I eligible for a portion of my spouse's Social Security if we're still married?
Yes, if you worked outside the home for at least ten years and earned enough credits, you could be eligible for a portion of your spouse's Social Security Benefit. However, if you worked, a calculation will be completed, and you will get whichever rate is higher, your own retirement benefit rate or benefits from your spouse's record.
Spouses can also be eligible for between one-third and one-half of their husband's Social Security. Still, the majority of women, their rate will be hired and eligible to receive their own benefits.
How do you qualify for Social Security under your spouse's record?
To qualify on a spouse's record, you must be 62, legally married to them for one year, and they must be receiving their Social Security benefit. If they don't draw their benefit, then you will have to wait until they do so. If your spouse is not 62, two exceptions can enable you to receive a benefit. If your child is under the age of 16 or if you have a disabled adult child, you can be eligible to receive benefits on behalf of that child. Once your child exceeds age 16, you will have to wait until you are 62 to receive benefits.
What happens to your Social Security eligibility after a divorce?
A few rules apply when filing for a portion of your ex-spouse's Social Security benefit in retirement. The most significant of those rules is that you must be unmarried when you file your claim. You also must have been married to your spouse for at least ten years to be eligible. If you decide to file, you and your spouse must both have reached the age of 62. When you file, if you have been divorced for less than two years, you will have to wait until your ex begins receiving a benefit before you can submit a claim.
What happens when your spouse dies?
Social Security does allow for payments to widows. Benefit eligibility is similar to a divorced spouse. However, the age eligibility is decreased. When you become a widower, to claim death benefits, you must be at least age 50. Age 50 is pretty young, and you may wonder if you would lose your benefits if you remarry. As long as you remarry after age 60, your survivor benefit eligibility will not stop. This rule applies to surviving spouses and divorced spouses.
It's important to know that if you remarry that although the widow/er benefit will not stop, you should contact SSA to see if a higher benefit is possible on the living spouse record. Also, if your new spouse were to pass away, SSA would need the widow/er to contact you to determine the higher benefit amount.
How much of my spouse's Social Security benefit can I receive?
Numerous calculations can help you determine your Social Security benefit eligibility.
Visit the full spouse chart at www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/agereduction.html.
How much will my Social Security benefit be?
Visit SSA.gov to:
Check your benefit and payment information and your earnings record;
Change your address and phone number (exception: SSI);
Report your wages if you work and receive Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.