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Some wives don't need their own Social Security

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POSTED January 11, 2013 9:11 p.m.

Q: I am 67 years old and started getting Social Security at age 66. I get $2,100 per month. My wife is 57 and has spent most of her life as a homemaker. But she recently took an office job and is starting to earn Social Security credits. Will she need 40 credits to qualify for her own Social Security? If so, is there any real advantage to her doing this?

A: The answers to your two questions are: 1) yes and 2) probably not. But I suppose I should clarify that second answer.

If your wife is working because she wants to work or because you need the extra income in your household, then of course she should keep packing her lunch bag and head for the office every day. But if she is working just to get the Social Security credits, then it's probably not worth her effort. That because anything she might be due on her record will just reduce what she will already be due on your account.

Here is a quick example. Once she turns 62, she will be eligible for reduced wife's benefits on your account. She'd probably get around $630 per month.

So now let's say she gets her 40 credits and qualifies for her own Social Security retirement benefit. With that minimum number of qualifying credits, her monthly Social Security checks will be pretty meager — maybe in the $200 range. If she starts getting that, they will simply take that $200 off of her spousal benefit, leaving her with the same amount. In other words, she would get $200 in retirement benefits, and $430 in spousal benefits, for a total of $630 — the same amount she would already be getting on your account alone.

And the same would be true for any future widow's benefits she might be due. If you die before she does, and assuming that happens after she is 66 years old, she would be due a widow's check of $2,100 per month. If she earned her 40 credits and was getting $200 in retirement benefits, she would get that, plus $1,900 on your account, to take her up to the same $2,100 rate she'd be getting if she didn't have those 40 credits.

So again, if she is working just to build up her own Social Security, tell her to quit tomorrow and just wait for her spousal benefits to come rolling in!

Q: I am about to turn 62. My husband is 68 and already getting Social Security. We have been married for almost 40 years. But now we are getting divorced. (He's found a younger woman!) I never worked outside the home because my husband wanted me to be a full-time housewife. So I was counting on getting his Social Security. I was reading Social Security rules online, and they say I have to be divorced for at least two years before I can get my ex-husband's Social Security. Does that mean I won't get any of his Social Security until I am 64?

A: No. You will be due divorced wife's benefits as soon as you reach age 62. That two-year rule applies only if you are trying to get benefits from an ex-husband who is not yet getting Social Security, but who is old enough for benefits. Let me explain.

Normally, a wife cannot draw benefits from her husband's Social Security record until he is getting benefits himself. But the rules allow a divorced wife to claim benefits from her ex even if he isn't yet getting benefits, as long as he is old enough to claim those benefits (meaning he is at least 62 years old).

Social Security makes that distinction because when a couple is still married, the law assumes the husband is still supporting the wife (and thus, she doesn't need his Social Security until he is drawing it himself). But when a couple is divorced, the law can't make that assumption. So it allows a divorced woman to get benefits even if her ex isn't getting them.

They threw in that two-year rule because they don't want a woman to divorce a husband who isn't yet getting benefits just to claim benefits on his record.

But in your case, your husband (soon to be ex-husband) is already getting Social Security benefits. And we know you are not divorcing him just to get your hands on his Social Security. You're dumping him because he is a philandering fool!

 

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