06 Nov Can I collect Social Security benefits from my ex?
Q. I was married for 17 years. I got a divorce and never married again. Can I get Social Security off my ex-husband’s record? He is 67 and has been collecting for 15 years. I’m 53.
A. You’re going to need to call Social Security directly so it can review your specific records, but you’re also going to have to wait a while.
If your ex-husband has been collecting Social Security for 15 years and he is 67 years old, then he must have started collecting disability benefits around age 52.
When he turned full retirement age, which for him should have been 66 years old if he was born in 1952, his Social Security benefits changed over from disability to retirement benefits, said Michael Cohen, a retirement specialist with Certainty Retirement Advisors in Belvidere.
He said there are five criteria that you have to meet with before you can collect on your ex-spouse’s earnings record. They are:
1. You were married for 10 years or longer.
2. You remain unmarried.
3. You are age 62 or older.
4. The benefit you are entitled to on your own work history is less than what he is entitled to on his work history.
5. Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security or disability benefits.
While you were married long enough and you haven’t remarried, you’re still only 53.
When you’re old enough to collect benefits, you may qualify to collect on his work history if your benefit is less than his, Cohen said.
That’s why you’d need to speak with Social Security about your personal benefit and how it compares to your ex’s benefit.
But let’s assume for a moment that your ex-spouse’s benefit is greater than yours.
“Because you were married to him for at least 10 years, are now divorced, and remain unmarried, when you get to age 62 you will have two options on how to collect Social Security,” he said. “You can either collect on his work history or on your own work history.”
If you collect on your own work history, you would be using the numbers that are shown on your Social Security statement, Cohen said. If you have not seen a statement recently, he recommends you go to www.ssa.gov and take the time to set up an account and download your statement.
At the top right hand corner of Page 1 will be your primary insurance amount, or the monthly benefit you should expect at age 67, Cohen said. On page 2, you will see how the numbers change if you collect as soon as possible, which would be at age 62, or if you wait as long as possible, which would be age 70.
“If you collect before age 67, you will get less money each month,” Cohen said. “If you wait until age 70, you will get 8 percent simple interest per year for the three years between age 67 and age 70.”
That means a larger benefit the longer you wait to collect.
Now, if you do not have an extensive work history and your numbers are very low, you may want to collect on your ex-spouse’s work history.
“If you do this, the Social Security Administration will use a combination of your benefit and his benefit to bump you up to half of your ex-spouse’s benefit,” he said. “If you apply for benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work history, the same rules apply.”
You have quite a few years before you would be eligible to collect, Cohen said, so you want to keep up on changing laws.
“The government has, and surely will again, change the rules,” he said. “Full retirement age used to be age 65, then was gradually raised to age 66, and then gradually raised again to age 67 through legislation.”
If you check your Social Security statement, on Page 2, underneath the Medicare section in bold type, it reads this:
“Your estimated benefits are based on current law. Congress has made changes in the law in the past and can do so at any time. The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2034, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 79 percent of scheduled benefits.”
So as you wait the nine years before you become eligible, don’t be surprised to see changes in the future, he said.
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This story was originally published on Nov. 6, 2019.
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