This probably isn’t shocking news, but women consistently face more retirement challenges than men due to lower wages (1) and time out of the workforce to care for children. (2) But add all those challenges to the unique situation of being single, and things get even more complicated. Between longer life expectancy, (3) lower marriage rates, (4) and consistently high divorce rates, (5) it’s estimated that 80% of women will end up alone. (6) That means it’s never been more important for women to start taking control of their financial life.
Even if you don’t rely on your Social Security benefits to pay the bills during retirement (thanks to your nest egg), don’t ignore them! After all, those benefits are rightfully yours; taking the time to optimize them for your unique situation will be well worth the effort.
For the Single Women
Many women make the mistake of claiming Social Security as soon as they’re eligible. Few wait until full retirement age, and even fewer wait until age 70. But your benefit amount increases by 8% each year from 66 to 70, plus cost of living increases for inflation, so it pays to wait. (7)
For example, let’s say your full retirement age is 66 and your monthly payment is estimated to be $2,000. The chart below shows how much you’d get every month if you started collecting at age 62 (reduced benefits), 66 (full benefits), and 70 (increased benefits).
Just by waiting until age 70, your monthly payout increases by 32% each month, which could lead to thousands of more dollars throughout your retirement for you to invest or gift to others. (8)
But when you should claim benefits isn’t as simple as waiting until age 70. Your health, home, and personal circumstances could indicate otherwise. Maybe you find out you have advanced-stage breast cancer, so you start taking benefits at age 62. Or maybe you are in good health and since you have plenty of other resources, so you wait until age 70. Tailoring your claiming strategy to your unique life circumstances is key, and a professional can help you take all factors into account.
For Those Who Are Divorced
This may come as a surprise, but divorcées can claim their ex-spouse’s benefits as long as they were married for at least 10 years. The amount you receive is equal to 50% of your ex’s benefits. If you qualify for your own benefits, you either receive 100% of your benefit amount or 50% of your ex’s, whichever is higher. (9) The best part? Your ex never has to know you’re collecting spousal benefits. Social Security doesn’t notify them and you’re not required to reach out.
If your ex passes away, you receive benefits as a widow, which means you get 100% of your ex’s payout. There is one caveat to this rule, however. You won’t qualify for spousal benefits if you remarry. Your ex can, but you can’t. Although, if you happen to remarry and your second marriage ends in divorce or your spouse dies, you’d once again be eligible for your first spouse’s benefits.
For the Widows
Widows and divorcées who were married for at least a decade are eligible for survivor benefits when a spouse dies. Just keep in mind that you won’t qualify for survivor benefits if you remarry before age 60.
As with regular Social Security payouts, you receive reduced benefits if you claim them before you reach full retirement age. But unlike regular payouts, you don’t have to wait until you’re 70 to get the highest amount.
The chart below shows what percentage of survivor benefits you’d get based on your situation: (10)
Rely on a Financial Professional
Social Security is an intricate puzzle with many pieces, so attempting to go at it alone may not be the best course of action. To gain clarity and help potentially increase your benefits, it may benefit you to work with a financial professional.
We at Serenity Financial Planning would love to help you evaluate your options and choose a claiming strategy based on your unique situation. We are here to walk with you as you navigate Social Security, and the rest of your financial journey as well. If you’d like to work with a financial planner who understands your unique needs and inspires you to be more confident in your financial decisions, schedule a no-obligation introductory meeting online or reach out to me at (858) 251-4545 or email@example.com. Learn more about why I’m passionate about working with women by reading my blog on Why I Became a Financial Advisor.
Sima Alefi is founder and wealth management advisor at Serenity Financial Planning, a boutique financial firm serving women in the medical field. With two decades of experience, Sima provides her clients with a serene approach to investing while helping them pursue their goals. Sima and the Serenity team strive to offer personalized strategies for their clients’ needs while also making their clients feel heard and cared for.
Sima has a bachelor’s degree in business management and holds the Chartered Financial Consultant® and Accredited Asset Management Specialist℠ certifications. She cares deeply for her community and is an active member of the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla, Sharp Healthcare Foundation, San Diego Nice Guys, and acts as a North County Advisory Board Member for the North County Food Bank. She is a lifelong learner with a dedication to growing in knowledge both personally and in the industry to assist her clients better. Sima enjoys music, cooking, and exploring the beautiful Californian outdoors. To learn more about Sima, connect with her on LinkedIn.