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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 LONGER1 and typically earn less than men.2 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.

Nevenka Vrdoljak headshot
“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 67, for example, would see her annual benefit rise to $22,320 if she waited 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 very low 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 own reduced benefit at age 62 (if retired or earning limited income), and then request a spousal adjustment 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 automatically 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)

 

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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. 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 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 a benefit based on their earnings record.

 

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, http://www.ssa.gov/planners/lifeexpectancy.html, accessed February 3, 2022.

 

2 U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat39.htm, accessed February 3, 2022.

 

3 Assumes she was born in 1960 or later. Source: Social Security Administration. Available at socialsecurity.gov/OACT/quickcalc/, accessed February 2022. Source: Chief Investment Office.

 

4 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. 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," January 2021.

 

5 Source: Ibid.

 

Important Disclosures

 

Opinions are as of the date of this article 04/28/2022 and are subject to change.

 

Investing involves risk including possible loss of principal.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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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