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Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty – When can I get benefits from my ex-spouse?

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor, Association of Mature American Citizens

Dear Rusty: I know that I am able to get Social Security from my ex-husband. We were married for 16 years and I have not remarried. I will be 60 soon and he is 63. I do not know if he is retired yet, as we do not speak. Please advise when I can collect and how to go about the process. Signed: Divorced Lady

Dear Divorced Lady: Since you were married to your ex for more than 10 years and haven’t remarried, you may be able to collect a spousal benefit from your ex-husband when you are 62 years old. Your eligibility will depend upon the amount of your own personal Social Security (SS) benefit compared to your ex’s benefit amount, but you cannot collect an ex-spouse benefit before age 62. To be eligible for a benefit from your ex-spouse, you must also claim your personal SS (from your own lifetime work record), and when you claim your own benefit an ex-spouse benefit will be given, if you are entitled to one.

To be eligible for a benefit from your ex-spouse, your personal Social Security retirement benefit at your own full retirement age (FRA) must be less than 50% of the benefit your ex-husband would get at his FRA (note that FRA amounts are used for this determination, regardless of the age at which either of you claim SS). If your FRA benefit amount is less than half of his FRA benefit amount, then you will be entitled to a “spousal boost” to bring your total payment up to your spousal entitlement. But taken at age 62, both of those amounts will be reduced.

Your full retirement age is 67, and if you claim any SS benefit before that it will be reduced. At 62, your personal SS retirement benefit will be cut by 30% and your spousal boost will also be reduced. So, at age 62, the total amount of benefit you could get (your own benefit plus your spousal boost) would be about 32.5% of your ex-husband’s FRA benefit amount. Nonetheless, if you are comfortable with these benefit reductions, you can claim at age 62 (or any age thereafter) by contacting Social Security or, when the time comes, apply online at www.ssa.gov/applyforbenefits. You will need to provide SS with a copy of your marriage certificate and your final divorce decree, and you will need to know your ex-husband’s Social Security number (SSN). If you do not know his SSN, you’ll need to provide his parents’ names and his date and place of birth.

If you wish to find out in advance whether you’re entitled to an ex-spouse benefit and how much it is estimated to be, you can contact Social Security at 1.800-772-1213, or call your local SS office (find the local office number at www.ssa.gov/locator). Please note that all Social Security offices are temporarily closed to public access due to the pandemic, so calling them is your best current option to get an estimate of your spousal benefit.

One final caution: if you claim SS before your full retirement age and you are working, you’ll be subject to Social Security’s “earnings test” which limits how much you can earn before they take back some of your benefits.

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