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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 LIVE LONGER and typically earn less than men. As a result, they’re more at risk of outliving their money, says Nevenka Vrdoljak, 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.


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

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

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

For each year beyond your full retirement age (when you first become entitled to full or unreduced retirement benefits) 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 66, for example, would see her annual benefit rise to $23,760 if she waited until age 70.1


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2. Married? Coordinate with your spouse.

When there are two of you, 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 his or her own benefits at age 62. Eligible for both retired worker and spousal benefits, the lower-earning spouse will automatically receive the higher of the two amounts.2 (Spouses are entitled to up to 50% of their higher-earning partner’s full retirement benefits.3)


And don’t forget: Maximizing your benefits carries over to survivor benefits. By waiting to claim, the higher-earning spouse increases the amount his or her widow will receive. Widowed spouses are due between 71% and 100% of their partner’s payments at death based on the age they begin collecting.


3. Divorced? Don’t forget your ex.

If you’ve been divorced for at least two years and haven’t remarried—and your marriage lasted 10 or more years—you may be able to claim 50% of your ex’s full Social Security benefit. “The same payment rules apply to divorced spouses as to current ones,” 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 a portion of their benefits.


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” for more insights on claiming Social Security benefits.

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1 Assumes she was born between 1943 and 1954. Source: Nevenka Vrdoljak and Anna Rappaport, “Financial Decisions Near Retirement,” 2020.


2  If you were born before January 2, 1954, and have already reached full retirement, you can choose to receive only the spousal benefit and delay receiving your retirement benefit until a later date.


3 Social Security Administration, “What Every Woman Should Know,” July 2020.


This material should be regarded as general information on Social Security considerations and is not intended to provide specific Social Security advice. If you have questions regarding your particular situation, please contact your legal or tax advisor.


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