April 1, 2018 – April is Social Security Month (follow #SocialSecurityMonth on social media for more). While WISER is dedicated to promoting women’s financial security every month of the year, setting a month aside to focus on Social Security is a reminder of the importance of the benefit. It is never too early to start understanding Social Security benefits for both you and your loved ones. The more you learn now, the better prepared you will be in the future.
Social Security is especially important for women because they are often more dependent on it than men. More men than women receive income from retirement plans and pensions: 4 out of 10 men, compared to 2 out of 10 women. Women’s work patterns are more likely to involve part-time work and moving in and out of the paid labor force to provide family care. For as long as this is the case, the benefits they receive from retirement plans or employer pensions will be lower than men’s. As a result, Social Security, which is portable from job to job and is cost-of-living adjusted at retirement, will remain the mainstay of retirement income for most women.
Different people become eligible to receive Social Security payments at different times. This is why it is important to understand what benefits you are eligible for and when. As a worker, you must work and pay Social Security taxes for at least 10 years (40 quarters), and be at least 62 years old. As a spouse or divorced spouse, you must be at least 62 years old. If you are divorced, you must have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years and currently be unmarried. As a widow, you must be at least 60 years old (unless you are disabled in which case you can claim your benefit as early as age 50). If you are divorced, you can claim the survivors benefit if you were married at least 10 years and are currently unmarried (unless you remarried after age 60).
However, when you actually receive benefits also depends on when you were born. You can receive full benefits at “full retirement age.” Full retirement age is increasing gradually until it reaches age 67 for those who were born 1960 or later. Find a chart that lists your birth year and when you can receive full benefits on WISER’s fact sheet, Social Security: What Every Woman Needs to Know. The fact sheet includes answers to many other Social Security questions you may have, including how to estimate what your benefits will be and how you will be taxed on your benefits. At what you claim your benefit is also important. If you claim at age 62 when you are first eligible, you will receive a reduced benefit. If you wait until after your full retirement age, you can receive an increased benefit up to age 70.
Because Social Security is so important for retirement, there are many organizations and resources in addition to WISER that are dedicated to helping you understand and make the most out of it. Visit WISER’s Social Security resource page to learn more and find useful links, including to the Social Security Administration booklet, What Every Woman Should Know. The page is also a great place to check for recent news on Social Security, such as the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2018. Each year, the Social Security Administration may increase benefits to help seniors with changes to the cost of living due to inflation and other factors. In 2018, monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase 2.0%.
During National Social Security Month, take control of your future by seeing what you can do online at SocialSecurity.gov. From estimating or managing your benefits, to retiring online, Social Security’s online services put control at your fingertips. Not sure where to begin? Sign up for your online Social Security account today at ssa.gov/myaccount.