Money & Policy

What Women Should Know About Social Security

It's easy for a woman's Social Security account to get outdated. Here's what to do to keep things in proper order.

A Social Security account is not something a woman can "set and forget."

Women who change their names after getting married must remember to do the same on their Social Security account.

There are some who want their children to have a Social Security number as soon as possible after birth.

And what needs to be done when retirement finally comes along?

If You Change Your Name

Whenever you change your name, be sure to report the change to Social Security. Otherwise, your earnings may not be recorded properly and you may not receive all the Social Security you are due. Not changing your name with Social Security also can delay your income tax refund.

You must show a recently issued document as proof of your legal name change. Documents Social Security may accept to prove a legal name change include:

  • Marriage document.
  • Divorce decree.
  • Certificate of Naturalization showing a new name.
  • Court order for a name change.

If the document you provide for a legal name change does not give enough information to identify you or if you legally changed your name more than two years ago, then you also must show us an identity document in your old name (as shown in our records). If you do not have an identity document in your old name, we may accept an identity document in your new name as long as we can properly establish your identity.

If you are a U.S. citizen born outside the United States and our records do not show you are a citizen, you will need to provide proof of your U.S. citizenship. If you are not a U.S. citizen, Social Security will ask to see your current immigration documents.

The new card will have the same number as your previous card, but will show your new name.

Before You Retire

You can use the online Retirement Estimator to get immediate and personalized retirement benefit estimates to help you plan for your retirement. The online Retirement Estimator is a convenient, secure and quick financial planning tool, because it eliminates the need to manually key in years of earnings information. The estimator will also let you create “what if” scenarios. You can, for example, change your “stop work” dates or expected future earnings to create and compare different retirement options.

When You Retire

Most people need 10 years of work (40 credits) to qualify for benefits. Your benefit amount is based on your earnings averaged over most of your working career. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. If you have some years of no earnings or low earnings, your benefit amount may be lower than if you had worked steadily.

Your benefit also is affected by your age at the time you start receiving benefits. If you start your retirement benefits at age 62 (the earliest possible retirement age), your benefit will be lower than if you wait until your full retirement age.

If you choose to work while receiving Social Security benefits before you reach full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over the annual limit (which increases each year). In the year you reach full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $3 you earn over the limit in the months before your birthday. But once you reach full retirement age, you will get your full retirement benefits no matter how much you work and earn.

As you continue working, we will review your earnings each year and recalculate your benefit amount. Usually, your additional earnings will increase your benefit amount. If the amount increases, we will 
notify you and readjust your benefit payments.

If you are eligible for benefits on more than one work record, such as your own and your husband’s, you generally receive the higher benefit amount. When you apply for benefits, the Social Security representative can determine which record will give you the higher benefit.

If you are eligible for a spouse’s or ex-spouse’s benefit and your own retirement benefit, you should file for both. (The same rule applies to your husband or ex-husband.) If your husband works past full retirement age and does not collect Social Security benefits, you can still retire and get benefits based on your own work. Then, when he does retire, you can receive benefits on his record if they would be higher.

Another option comes into play if your spouse is full retirement age — especially if he plans to continue working. He can apply for retirement benefits and request to have the payments suspended. Then, you can receive spouse’s benefits and he can continue to earn delayed retirement credits until age 70

If your husband or ex-husband is deceased, you can choose which benefit to apply for now or choose to postpone filing for either benefit until you reach full retirement age.

If you have reached your full retirement age, and are eligible for a spouse’s or ex-spouse’s benefit and your own retirement benefit, you may choose to receive only spouse’s benefits and continue accruing delayed retirement credits on your own Social Security record.

Or, if you are full retirement age, you have the option of applying for retirement benefits and requesting that the payments be suspended. That way, your spouse can receive spouse’s benefits and you will continue to earn delayed retirement credits until age 70.

You may then file for benefits at a later date and receive a higher monthly benefit based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.

You will have Medicare coverage in addition to Social Security benefits if you are eligible for benefits either on your own record or your husband’s record. You will have Medicare hospital insurance (Part A) protection at age 65 and you will have the opportunity to buy Medicare medical insurance (Part B) for a monthly premium. You also can enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) and a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D). If you are not eligible for benefits and you do not have enough credits, you can pay a monthly premium to buy Medicare coverage.


A Woman's Guide to Social Security

Based on content from the Social Security Administration article "What Every Women Should Know."

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