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Women’s guide to Social Security

Knowing when to claim your benefits can mean the difference between a comfortable retirement and outliving your money


WOMEN TYPICALLY LIVE LONGER1 and earn less than men.2 As a result, they’re more at risk of outliving their money, says Nevenka Vrdoljak, managing director, Chief Investment Office, Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank.


Saving and investing more for retirement helps, of course. But there’s another often overlooked move that can go a long way toward helping women create a more comfortable and secure future for themselves — knowing when to claim their Social Security benefits. “Optimizing your Social Security benefits can be life-changing,” Vrdoljak says. The following three claiming strategies are worth considering.

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“Optimizing your Social Security benefits can be life-changing.”

— Nevenka Vrdoljak, managing director, Chief Investment Office, Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank

1. Wait as long as you can to claim your benefits.

Your full retirement age (FRA) is when you first become entitled to full, or unreduced, retirement benefits. For each year beyond your full retirement age that you wait to claim your benefits, Social Security will bump up your payouts by 8% annually until you reach age 70, which is the maximum age for boosting benefits. A single woman who is entitled to a Social Security benefit of $18,000 yearly at age 67, for example, could see her annual benefit rise to $22,320 if she waits until age 70.3


2. Married? Coordinate with your spouse.

When there are two of you, you have additional flexibility in how you can take your Social Security benefits. And particularly in cases when one spouse has much lower benefits, the opportunity to maximize your Social Security income expands. One possible scenario: Whoever is earning the most could wait until age 70 to file, and the lower-earning spouse could claim their reduced retirement benefit at age 62 (if retired or earning limited income) and then switch to spousal benefits when the higher earner files for benefits. The original reduction will be taken into consideration when determining the total monthly benefit. If eligible for both retired worker and spousal benefits, the lower-earning spouse will generally receive the higher of the two amounts.4 (Spouses are entitled to up to 50% of their higher-earning partner’s full retirement benefits.5)


And don’t forget: Maximizing your benefits carries over to survivor benefits. By waiting to claim, the higher-earning spouse increases the amount the survivor will receive.6 Widowed spouses are due between 71.5% and 100% of the deceased worker’s benefit based on the age the survivor begins collecting.7


3. Divorced? Don’t forget your ex.

If you’ve been divorced for at least two years and are unmarried — and your marriage lasted 10 or more years — you may be able to claim a benefit worth up to 50% of your ex’s full Social Security benefit. “For divorced spouses who qualify, the benefit is the same as for married couples,” says Vrdoljak. To qualify, you must be 62 years of age or older, your ex-spouse must be eligible to begin collecting and the spousal benefit must be greater than what you’d receive based on your own work history. Even if your ex has remarried or isn’t yet collecting Social Security benefits, you’re still eligible to receive benefits based on their earnings record. If your ex has died, you may receive the same benefits as a surviving spouse.


Your advisor can help you understand how your Social Security income fits into your retirement plan and decide when it might make the most sense for you to claim your benefits.


Read “Women and Life-Defining Financial Decisions” and “Financial Decisions Near Retirement” for more insights on claiming Social Security benefits.

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1 Social Security Administration, “Retirement & Survivors Benefits: Life Expectancy Calculator,” accessed April 2023.

2 U.S. Department of Labor, “Current Population Survey,” January 2023.

3 Assumes she was born in 1960 or later. Results shown in today’s dollars. Source: Chief Investment Office, based on calculations from the Social Security Administration Quick Calculator. Accessed March 2023.

4 If you were born before January 2, 1954, you can choose to receive only the spousal benefit and delay receiving your retirement benefit until a later date. If you were born January 2, 1954, or later, you are required to file for both benefits at once, and you'll generally receive the higher amount. Source: Social Security Administration, "What Every Woman Should Know," October 2022.

5 Source: Ibid.

6 Note: The spouse’s survivor benefit is limited to the greater of the amount the deceased worker would be receiving if alive or 82.5% of the primary insurance amount (PIA).

7 The exact percentage depends on the survivor’s age when they begin collecting, starting at 71.5% at age 60 and going up to 100% at their own full retirement age. For further information, visit the Social Security Administration’s survivors benefits page.


Important Disclosures


Opinions are as of 04/24/2023 and are subject to change.


Investing involves risk including possible loss of principal.


Social Security discussion is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice. If you have questions regarding your particular situation, you should contact the Social Security Administration and/or your legal advisors.


This information should not be construed as investment advice and is subject to change. It is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be either a specific offer by Bank of America, Merrill or any affiliate to sell or provide, or a specific invitation for a consumer to apply for, any particular retail financial product or service that may be available.


The Chief Investment Office (CIO) provides thought leadership on wealth management, investment strategy and global markets; portfolio management solutions; due diligence; and solutions oversight and data analytics. CIO viewpoints are developed for Bank of America Private Bank, a division of Bank of America, N.A., (“Bank of America”) and Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (“MLPF&S” or “Merrill”), a registered broker-dealer, registered investment adviser and a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of America Corporation (“BofA Corp.”).


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