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Women's Guide to Social Security

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April 22, 2019

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, Bank of America.

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. Consider waiting to claim your benefits as long as you can

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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Women and Social Security: Delay Claiming your benefits for as long as you can
Women and Social Security: Coordinate with your spouse to ensure maximum benefits
Women and Social Security: know your rights if you are divorced or widowed—and claim your benefits
Optimizing your Social Security benefits can be life-changing. —Nevenka Vrdoljak, director, Chief Investment Office, Bank of America


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 reduced benefit at age 62, and later request a spousal adjustment to increase the benefit he or she receives. 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 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.


1 Note: Assumes she was born between 1943 -1954. Source: Nevenka Vrdoljak and Anna Rappaport, “Financial Decisions Near Retirement,” 2019.


2 Note: “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. Source:


3 Social Security Administration, “5 Things Every Woman Should Know About Social Security,” 2019.

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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