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Surprising Ways Divorce Affects Your Social Security Benefits

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Sep 20, 2022

Before you make an election on your Social Security benefits whether to retire early, retire at the full retirement age or at maximum age, this is an election you need to make with true understanding of the consequences.  Therefore consulting a financial adviser who understands Social Security benefits is often best!

Many people are anxious to retire, but should you take Social Security early or at the earliest possible age?  Most people do not realize that there is a significant loss of benefit when you retire early.  A large percentage of your benefit disappears if you elect to retire early i.e., taking retirement at age 62.  Full retirement age has changed over time...it used to be 65 but now depends upon when you were born to determine at what age you can collect full retirement benefits. 

Before retirement, it is wise to consider when and which benefits to take, depending on your financial circumstances.  Taking Social Security at age 70, for instance, may get you more money monthly but will you live long enough to collect the difference of what you would collect if you took benefits at full retirement age?  This is something that you should consider and calculate, or speak with a financial adviser to understand the full picture.

Divorce can also affect Social Security benefits.  For instance, did you know that if you were married for 10 years and then divorce, you can choose an election where you actually are able to utilize your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits?  So how does that work?  So long as you have been married for at least 10 years, it doesn't matter how long you were divorced, so long as you have not remarried you will have the option at the time of your retirement to elect between your own Social Security benefit or ½ of your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefit, if it is greater than your own benefits.  You are not, however, entitled to the entire amount of your ex’s Social Security benefit.  You are only entitled to half, so if your ex-spouse ears significantly more than you for many years, half of their retirement benefit may be larger than your entire retirement benefit.  The wonderful thing is it doesn't matter when your Ex retires or when you retire...the election to your ex-spouse’s benefit exists and does not affect your ex-spouse’s benefit or how they elect to take their retirement.  The Social Security Administration usually will do the best as far as giving you the higher amount, so for instance, if it is better for you to keep your own benefit they will make sure that your own Social Security benefit is paid first and then they will pay you the difference using the spousal benefit generated by your ex-spouse’s work history.  Just be sure to confirm everything before finalizing your election!

There is also a survivor benefit in the event that your spouse, either current or former, passes away.  You may be eligible for survivor benefits.  Qualification for these benefits are really different.  If you were married at the time of the death, you must have been married for at least nine months unless your spouse’s death was accidental or occurred during military service.  For your divorced spouse you had to have been similarly married for 10 years and if that spouse dies that death survivor benefit can actually be received before you retire, depending on your age and circumstances and whether or not you have a disability.  If you are receiving Social Security and your ex-spouse dies, you can get a boost to your Social Security by that survivor benefit.  As previously stated, re-marriage can kill the benefits from an ex-spouse.  Remember, it is your re-marriage not theirs.  You can receive up to 50% of your ex-spouse’s benefit amount.  If you are a widow or widower you can receive up to 100% of the deceased’s benefit, but as in most situations as I previously mentioned, if you choose to receive reduced benefits if you apply before your full retirement age not only is your benefit significantly discounted, those benefits that you could get from an ex-spouse will also be reduced.

Selected excerpt(s) and linked article courtesy of Sarah Sheehan, financebuzz(dot)com
Royalty-free photo courtesy of Pixabay

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