I’ve speculated before that most of the readers of my column are women. And that conjecture is based on the fact that I seem to get many more emails from them than I get from men. That’s why, for example, in the past month, I’ve written two columns targeted to my female readers. But I guess I didn’t do a very good job of helping them understand the Social Security program, because those columns seem to have generated even more emails from women. Here is a sampling.
Q: I am 75 years old and getting widow’s benefits from my first husband, who died many years ago. I was married a second time for 20 years to another man. He was a doctor and made very good money. I divorced him because of physical abuse I suffered. He is living in a beach house in San Diego. I live in a duplex in Waco, Texas. What I can’t figure out is why am I not getting any of his Social Security?
A: You’re not getting any of his Social Security because he’s not dead—yet (I’m not trying to give you any ideas!). Or to put that another way, a widow’s rate pays up to twice as much as the rate paid to a wife (or divorced wife) of a guy who is still alive.
If you are due two benefits, you only receive the one that pays the higher rate. You might be getting up to 100 percent of your deceased first husband’s Social Security. But you are only due one-half of your second husband’s benefit. And I’m sure 100 percent from husband number one pays more than 50 percent from husband number two—no matter how rich he is. Now, if the doctor dies, you can switch to benefits on his record. So, all I can suggest you do is order a subscription to the San Diego newspaper and start reading the obituaries!
Q: I am 58 years old. I get Social Security disability benefits. My husband, who made a lot more money than I ever did, is 66 and recently signed up for his Social Security. His benefit is three times as much as mine. Yet I was told I can’t get any spousal benefits from his record. Why not?
A: Because you’re not old enough. The earliest that spousal benefits can be paid is age 62. So, four years from now, you can check to see if you might be due any extra benefits on your husband’s record.
Q: I am 73 years old. I get $1,620 per month in my own retirement benefits. My ex-husband, who always made a six-figure income, must be getting way more than me. So, I figure I am due something extra from his Social Security. I talked to someone at Social Security’s 800 number, and she said I’m not eligible for anything on his record because no one is getting $3,240 per month. What did she mean by that?
A: What she was trying to explain to you, rather awkwardly I think, is that you are either due your own Social Security benefit, or half of your ex-husband’s basic full retirement age benefit, whichever pays the higher rate. Currently, the maximum full retirement benefit is $3,148. Half of that is $1,574. Your own Social Security retirement exceeds that, so that is why you aren’t due anything from your ex-husband’s Social Security account.
Or to clarify the Social Security rep’s remarks a little more, what she was trying to tell you is that because you’re getting $1,620, your ex would have to be getting $3,240 or more before you could get anything extra from him. And since no retiree can be getting that much in a basic benefit, you’re not eligible for divorced wife’s benefits.
I know some of my readers are saying: “Wait a minute. You said the maximum retirement benefit is $3,148. But I’m getting way more than that.” Please note that I said the maximum “full retirement age” benefit is $3,148. Many retirees are getting more than that because they waited until some later age, like age 70 for example, to sign up for Social Security—so they are getting a delayed-retirement bonus added to their monthly benefits. But a spousal rate is always based on the full retirement age benefit, not the bonus-augmented benefit. And once again, the current maximum full retirement age benefit is $3,148, which means the current maximum spousal benefit is $1,574.
Q: I am 71 years old. I get $1,415 from Social Security. My rich ex-husband told me he is getting monthly benefits of $3,430, so I should be getting half of that, or $1,716. How come I’m not getting that?
A: As I explained in the answer to the prior question, the rate payable to a wife is based on the husband’s full retirement age rate. In other words, the rate he would have been due at age 66. With a monthly benefit as high as his, I’m sure he didn’t start his Social Security checks until age 70. And by doing that, he got an extra 32 percent “delayed retirement bonus” tacked on to his monthly checks. So, I’m guessing his full retirement age rate is around $2,600. And you are due half of that, or $1,300. So, the reason you are not getting wife’s benefits is because your own $1,415 rate exceeds your spousal benefit rate.
Q: I am 66. I get $1,440 per month. My husband is 72. He took his benefits at 70 and he gets $3,490. I read in a past column that I only can get half of his age 66 benefit rate, not his age 70 rate. But I know a woman at our church who says she is getting her deceased husband’s age 70 benefit. Why does she get it and I don’t?
A: Because her husband is dead and yours isn’t. Benefits payable to the spouse of a living husband are based on the full retirement age benefit amount. But benefits payable to the widow of a guy who has died are based on his full rate, including any delayed retirement credits he was getting.
Q: I am a single woman. I’ve been single all my life. And I get sick and tired of listening to these married women clamoring for more benefits off of a husband’s or ex-husband’s Social Security account. I think a woman should only get the Social Security benefits she has worked for and earned herself.
A: No comment! (Although I’d love to be a fly on the wall in a room where you and a bunch of your married friends debate this issue.)