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Social Security can help divorcees too

Dear Savvy Senior,What can you tell me about Social Security benefits for divorcees? I was married many years ago and would like to know what I may be eligible for. Happily Single

Dear Happily,
Social Security provides divorced spouses benefits just like they do current spouses - if they meet the right requirements. Here’s what you should know.

Divorce Rules
A divorced spouse can collect a Social Security retirement benefit on the work record of their ex-husband (or ex-wife) IF, they are at least age 62 and were married for at least 10 years, are unmarried now and are not eligible for a higher benefit based on their own or someone else’s Social Security record.
In order to collect, however, your ex-spouse must also be at least 62 and eligible for Social Security benefits, but they don’t have to be receiving them in order for you to collect divorced spouse’s benefits.
Even if your ex is remarried, it won’t affect your right to divorcee benefits, nor will it affect your ex’s retirement benefits or his or her current spouse’s benefits. In fact, the Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t contact ex-spouses so they won’t even know if you’re receiving benefits on their record.

Benefit Amount
A divorced spouse can receive up to 50 percent of their ex’s full Social Security benefit, or less if they take benefits before their full-retirement age - which is between ages 65 and 67 depending on the year you were born. To find out your full-retirement age and see how much your benefits will be reduced by taking them early see www.ssa.gov/retire2/agereduction.htm.
Keep in mind though, that if you qualify for benefits based on your own work history, you’ll receive the larger of the two benefits.
To calculate your retirement benefits based on your own earnings history, see the SSA retirement benefits calculator at www.ssa.gov/planners/calculators.htm. And to get an estimate of your divorced spouse benefit, call Social Security at 800-772-1213. You’ll need your ex’s Social Security Number to get it.

Remarrying
Since 75 percent of U.S. divorcees get married again, it’s important to note that remarrying makes you ineligible for divorced spouse’s benefits unless the later marriage ends. And for those who have been married (and divorced) twice, with both marriages lasting more than 10 years, you can collect using the ex-spouse with the larger Social Security benefit.

Divorced Survivor
You also need to know that if your ex-spouse dies, and you were married for 10 or more years, you become eligible for divorced “survivor benefits,” which is worth up to 100 percent of what your ex-spouse was due. Survivor’s benefits are available to divorced spouses as early as age 60, or age 50 if you are disabled. But be aware that you cannot get survivor’s benefits if you remarry before age 60 unless the marriage ends.
However being remarried after age 60 (50 if you are disabled), will not prevent you from getting benefit payments based on your former spouse’s record. (Note: If you are receiving divorced spouse’s benefits when your ex-spouse dies, you will automatically be switched over to the higher paying survivor benefit.)

Switching Options
Divorced widows and widowers may have other options to consider, such as: If you are currently collecting Social Security retirement benefits on your own record, and your ex-spouse dies, you can switch to survivor’s benefits if the payment is larger. Or, if you are collecting survivor’s benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefits as early as age 62 if it offers a larger payment.

How to Collect
To learn more about, or apply for, divorced spouse or divorced survivor benefits, or to switch benefits from your record to your ex-spouse’s record, call 800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office. You’ll need certified copies of your marriage and divorce certificates as proof of your relationship. And for more information on divorced benefits see www.ssa.gov/retire2/divspouse.htm.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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