Just Scratching the Surface -Divorce and Social Security

October 11, 2011

For those of you who are divorced, you may have some Social Security eligibility options that you don’t even know about. Everyone’s case is different. But, in this article, I have touched on some of the most general eligibility rules for those of you who are divorced.

Please read the footnotes too. There are lots of potential disqualifying events. 

Can I claim Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse’s earnings? 

In many cases, if all 5 requirements below are met, a divorced party can qualify as a dependent for Social Security purposes. As a dependent, you may be entitled to 50 percent[1] of your former spouse’s benefits. 

So,  if your former spouse has reached full retirement age and he/she is still alive, to qualify for one-half of your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits, all of the following conditions must be met: 

  1. Your ex-spouse is now entitled to receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits
  2. You and your ex-spouse had been married for at least 10 years before the divorce became final
  3. You are not currently married
  4. You are age 62 [2]or older
  5. You aren’t entitled to collect a retirement or disability benefit based on a PIA[3] that equals (or exceeds) one-half of your ex-spouse’s PIA 

Example: Assume John has retired and collects $1000 per month in Social Security benefits. If he was married to Jean for at least 10 years before he divorces her, Jean can collect $500/month (one-half of John’s benefit) when she reaches age 65. Note that Jean will have the option to take the Social Security benefits she earned in her own name. Of course, she’ll choose the higher figure. 

What if one or both of us has remarried?  

If your ex-spouse gets remarried and you don’t, your Social Security entitlement will be unaffected. If your ex-spouse is married to a second spouse for at least 10 years and then they get a divorce, you and that second spouse will each be entitled to collect an amount equal to one-half of the former spouse’s benefits (assuming that you each meet the requirements set forth above).

If you’re the one who remarries, you would then look to your current spouse’s PIA in computing your dependent Social Security benefit. However, if you worked for a sufficient period of time, you may be entitled to a larger benefit amount computed based on your own earnings record.[4] 

I know that many of you may think that understanding Social Security eligibility is easy. But, if the number of footnotes for this short article is any clue, you’ve already guessed that determining Social Security eligibility is neither easy nor straightforward. There are many qualifying events and specific guidelines that will be used to determine eligibility including: the age of recipients,  the number of  years you were married, number of years you’ve been divorced, if there are children, the ages of the children, if the ‘wage earner’ is alive or deceased etc. 

So, always check directly with the Social Security Administration to see what benefits you may be entitled to. And, take the time to understand the advantages and disadvantages (penalties) of each option that you may have.

 Jane Nowak is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ specializing in , Women’s Retirement,  Financial Planning for Women and AT&T Retirement Plans. Located in the Smyrna, Marietta, Vinings area of Atlanta, GA, Jane’s goal is to educate and help her clients to take control of their daily finances so they can fully fund their retirement dreams and needs. Jane has recently been quoted in articles or published  on-line at the: NASDAQ, Yahoo Finance, Womenetics.com, Smart Money Chicks, Fox Business News, CreditCards.com, U.S. News and World Report and Financial Planning Association (FPA) websites. She can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter as @MoneyGal2020.

 Securities offered through Triad Advisors, Inc. Member, FINRA/SIPC

 

 
 

[1] Note: That this entitlement doesn’t reduce your ex-spouse’s benefits by one-half; rather, this merely establishes the amount of money you may collect. For basic information about the Social Security program and for detailed treatment of Social Security rules, see Social Security.

[2] Note: If you’re age 62 or older and you’ve been divorced for at least two years, you can receive Social Security benefits immediately (based on your former spouse’s earnings) regardless of whether that spouse has chosen to retire or has submitted an application for Social Security benefits. This, of course, is assuming that the other four requirements listed above have been satisfied. However, if you choose to receive benefits at age 62 instead of your normal retirement age, the benefit that you would have received at your normal retirement age will be reduced by at least 25 percent (assuming you don’t have a dependent child who’s entitled to benefits on the deceased spouse’s Social Security record). In other words, if you choose to receive reduced benefits at age 62, you will not be entitled to collect full benefits when you reach your full retirement age.  Jane’s comment: Be aware of the penalty!

[3] The “primary insurance amount” (PIA) is the benefit (before rounding down to next lower whole dollar) a person would receive if he/she elects to begin receiving retirement benefits at his/her normal retirement age. At this age, the benefit is neither reduced for early retirement nor increased for delayed retirement.

[4] Portions of this text were excerpted from material provided by Forfield Advisor

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Is it Time to Close Retirement Income Gap or Rethink Your Dream of Retirement?

August 3, 2011

When you determine how much income you’ll need in retirement, you may base your projection on the type of lifestyle you plan to have and when you want to retire. However, like many Americans, as you grow closer to retirement, you may discover that your income won’t be enough to meet your needs. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need to adopt a plan to bridge this projected income gap or even totally rethink your entire dream of having a full retirement.

 Delay retirement: 65 is just a number

One way of dealing with a projected income shortfall is to stay in the workforce longer than you had planned. This will allow you to continue supporting yourself with a salary rather than dipping into your retirement savings. Depending on your income, this could also increase your Social Security retirement benefit. You’ll also be able to delay taking your Social Security benefit or distributions from retirement accounts. 

At normal retirement age (which varies, depending on the year you were born), you will receive your full Social Security retirement benefit. You can elect to receive your Social Security retirement benefit as early as age 62, but if you begin receiving your benefit before your normal retirement age, your benefit will be reduced. Conversely, if you delay retirement, you can increase your Social Security benefit. 

Remember, too, that income from a job may affect the amount of Social Security retirement benefit you receive if you are under normal retirement age. Your benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over a certain earnings limit ($14,160 in 2010 and 2011). But once you reach normal retirement age, you can earn as much as you want without affecting your Social Security retirement benefit. 

Another advantage of delaying retirement is that you can continue to build tax-deferred funds in your IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan. Keep in mind, though, that you may be required to start taking minimum distributions from your qualified retirement plan or traditional IRA once you reach age 70½, if you want to avoid harsh penalties. 

And if you’re covered by a pension plan at work, you could also consider retiring and then seeking employment elsewhere. This way you can receive a salary and your pension benefit at the same time. Some employers, to avoid losing talented employees this way, are beginning to offer “phased retirement” programs that allow you to receive all or part of your pension benefit while you’re still working. Make sure you understand your pension plan options. 

Spend less, save more 

You may be able to deal with an income shortfall by adjusting your spending habits. If you’re still years away from retirement, you may be able to get by with a few minor changes. However, if retirement is just around the corner, you may need to drastically change your spending and saving habits. Saving even a little money can really add up if you do it consistently and earn a reasonable rate of return. Make permanent changes to your spending habits and you’ll find that your savings will last even longer. Start by preparing a budget to see where your money is going. Here are some suggested ways to stretch your retirement dollars: 

  • Refinance your home mortgage if interest rates have dropped since you took the loan.
  • Reduce your housing expenses by moving to a less expensive home or apartment.
  • Sell one of your cars if you have two. When your remaining car needs to be replaced, consider buying a used one.
  • Access the equity in your home. Use the proceeds from a second mortgage or home equity line of credit to pay off higher-interest-rate debts.
  • Transfer credit card balances from higher-interest cards to a low- or no-interest card, and then cancel the old accounts.
  • Ask about insurance discounts and review your insurance needs (e.g., your need for life insurance may have lessened).
  • Reduce discretionary expenses such as lunches and dinners out. 

Earmark the money you save for retirement and invest it immediately. If you can take advantage of an IRA, 401(k), or other tax-deferred retirement plan, you should do so. Funds invested in a tax-deferred account will generally grow more rapidly than funds invested in a non-tax-deferred account. 

Accept reality: lower your standard of living 

If your projected income shortfall is severe enough or if you’re already close to retirement, you may realize that no matter what measures you take, you will not be able to afford the retirement lifestyle you’ve dreamed of. In other words, you will have to lower your expectations and accept a lower standard of living. 

Fortunately, this may be easier to do than when you were younger. Although some expenses, like health care, generally increase in retirement, other expenses, like housing costs and automobile expenses, tend to decrease. And it’s likely that your days of paying college bills and growing-family expenses are over. 

Once you are within a few years of retirement, you can prepare a realistic budget that will help you manage your money in retirement. Think long term: Retirees frequently get into budget trouble in the early years of retirement, when they are adjusting to their new lifestyles. Remember that when you are retired, every day is Saturday, so it’s easy to start overspending.

About Jane Nowak, CFP® – MoneyGal2020

Jane Nowak, CFP® is a Financial Planner who specializes on AT&T retirement and benefit plans and on Women’s Retirement and Financial Planning for Women. Located in NW Atlanta suburbs Jane’s goal is to educate and empower her clients to take control of their daily finances so they can fully fund their retirement dreams.

Jane has recently had articles published or has been quoted in articles published online at  NASDAQ, Womenetics.com, Fox Business News, Smart Money Chicks, CreditCards.com and Financial Planning Association websites.

Securities offered through Triad Advisors, Inc. Member, FINRA/SIPC.

©Copyright 2006-2011 Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved


The U.S. Debt Ceiling-Trending Financial 7/13/11

July 13, 2011

A day doesn’t go by without hearing/reading  something about the impasse in Washington DC about raising the U. S. debt ceiling. Well folks,it’s got to happen. The debt ceiling must be raised. The crisis that was created over the last five+ years will not be solved in the current bi-partisan Congressional showdown.

After all is said and done, behind the sound bites, rhetoric, posturing, in- fighting and on-going drama currently taking place on center stage in Washington DC, there is the reality of the numbers. Unless our Congress wants the U.S. government to default on our debt, make immediate drastic cuts in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security and/or other government budget items, something’s got to give. And, my bet is that the debt ceiling will be the first of those things to go.

Why?

1.)    The U.S. will not default on its debt  and drive the world markets into a tail spin.

2.)    No matter which party you’re partial to, cutting Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security does not endear Congressional representatives and Senators to their constituents especially at election time..

Reality Check

Read my lips “More new taxes .”

Oh, and now for a further dose of reality…Congress loves to play ‘the blame game’.  But, our taxes will be going up. That way we can each contribute more of ‘our fair share’ to reduce our country’s massive deficit shortfalls. 

Jane Nowak, CFP® is a Financial Planner who specializes on AT&T retirement and benefit plans and on Women’s Retirement and Financial Planning for Women. Located in NW Atlanta suburbs Jane’s goal is to educate and empower her clients to take control of their daily finances so they can fully fund their retirement dreams and needs. Jane has recently had articles published or has been quoted in articles published online at  NASDAQ, Womenetics.com, Fox Business News, Smart Money Chicks, CreditCards.com and Financial Planning Association websites.

Securities offered through Triad Advisors, Inc. Member, FINRA/SIPC.


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