Critter Corner: Can You Get Social Security Benefits if You Never Worked?

Dear Ernie and Jannette,

I am a recent divorcee who is getting ready to drop my last kid off at college next year, which, in essence, means that I am retired. The thing is, as a lifelong homemaker who raised five children, I never worked a paying job in my life (unless you count a very short stint over 25 years ago). Can I still collect Social Security? I do get spousal support, but it sure would be nice to get more monthly income if I’m entitled to part of his Social Security. If so, my ex-husband is considering filing at 62, and we are still amicable, so should I encourage him to retire at 62, or should I try to talk him out of it?

Thanks for any guidance you can provide!

Anita DeMoney

Dear Anita,

Happy retirement! If your ex-husband worked, you are in luck!

Eligibility for Spousal Benefits

Social Security benefits are calculated based on earnings. But even if you never worked and therefore don’t have an earnings record, you’re not necessarily out of luck. If you’re married (or were married) to someone who’s entitled to Social Security, you can collect spousal benefits equal to 50% of your husband or wife’s benefits at full retirement age.

Even if you did work, you can receive spousal benefits if your earnings were substantially lower than those of your spouse. Social Security will pay you the greater of your own monthly benefit or 50% of your spouse’s benefit. This means that if you’re entitled to $600 a month in benefits but your spouse is entitled to $1,800 a month, your $600 will automatically get bumped up to $900, or half of what your spouse collects. If you’re divorced, as you mentioned you are, but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer and you’re currently unmarried, you’ll still be able to collect 50% of your ex-spouse’s benefits.

Collecting Social Security Too Early

Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest years of earnings, and the age at which you file for them will impact your payments. You are correct in that you are allowed to claim benefits as early as age 62. Full retirement age, depending on your year of birth, is either 66 and 2 months or 67. It may be best for your ex-husband to wait until then.

Here’s why: waiting until full retirement age guarantees that he’ll collect the full monthly benefit his earnings record entitles him to. Filing before that age, however, means he’ll face a reduction in benefits. For each year he delays benefits past full retirement age, he’ll boost them by 8% a year. This incentive runs out at age 70, which is why it doesn’t make sense to delay benefits past then. The point is that the earlier in life he files for benefits, the less money he’ll receive in Social Security each month, which means the last you’ll receive as well. So, if you can afford to live on just your alimony, you might want to encourage him to wait to retire. Of course, waiting is not always advantageous, especially if one of you has serious health concerns and is worried about possibly dying prematurely.

Interested in learning more about Social Security? Check out the Farr Law Firm’s helpful FAQs on our website at https://www.farrlawfirm.com/social-security-faqs/.

Hop this is helpful,

Ernie and Jannette

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