This may come as a surprise to you, but your ex-husband could turn out to be good for something after all. If you were married for at least 10 years, you may be entitled to Social Security benefits based upon your ex’s income—that is, if he’s entitled to Social Security benefits.
Here’s how it works: let’s say you’re thinking about retiring. You go to the Social Security website and find out what your benefits would be if you retire at 62, if you retire at your full benefit age, and if you retire at age 70. Then you call Social Security to find out what your benefits would be if you used your ex’s Social Security benefits. The number is (800) 772-1213. If you retire at 62, you can get 35% of his benefit; at full retirement age, you can get 50% of his benefit.
Let me show you with an example: Jane is 60 years old and she’s contemplating what she wants to do about retiring, whether to start taking benefits at 62 or hold out until later. She runs the numbers on the Social Security website ( www.ssa.gov ) and gets the following information:
- Retire at 62, monthly benefit: $ 585
- Retire at 66, monthly benefit: $ 820
- Retire at 70, monthly benefit: $1,040
Those aren’t great numbers. Jane didn’t always work because she was raising a family, and when she did work, well, she didn’t make all that much money. But Jane’s ex-husband, Tom, made plenty of money. Using the Quick Retirement Calculator at ssa.gov: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/quickcalc/index.html.
Jane estimates Tom’s Social Security earnings will be $2,586 per month at retirement. Now she’s going to want to actually talk to the Social Security folks to get the real numbers, but the calculator will give her a rough idea.
So, if Jane retires at 62, she can qualify for 35% of Tom’s money which would be $905 per month. If she waits until her full retirement age, she can qualify for 50% of Tom’s money which would be $1,293. For Jane, she can make more money retiring using Tom’s benefits than she can make on her own.
This is really important to know:
- Your ex-husband will not lose his Social Security benefits if you use them
- You cannot be currently remarried and qualify for your ex’s benefits
- If you have had more than one marriage that lasted for over 10 years; you may use the spouse that gives you the greater benefit
Now here’s the really sweet deal: Let’s say Jane has a job she really likes and is able to keep working past full retirement age. Jane keeps working but she claims Tom’s social security benefits when she hits her retirement age. Then, let’s say because of her working, her benefits at 70 actually go up to $1500 a month instead of the $1040 that she had calculated back when she was 60. Jane can switch back and take her own, higher, retirement benefits now. That’s so awesome!
This is also important: If you claim Social Security based upon your ex-husband’s benefits before you reach full retirement age you will not be able to switch back to your full benefit at age 70. You really want to think long and hard about those numbers before you retire early.
What you’re eligible to receive from Social Security is very personal. It’s all based upon your individual contributions, you can’t make any assumptions based upon what your friends or neighbors get. You can learn what you’re eligible for by creating your own account at the Social Security website. It only takes about 10 minutes. Finding out about benefits from an ex-spouse will take a bit longer because it involves a phone call and the hold times can be pretty long. Isn’t it worth finding out?