2016 has arrived, and for the tens of millions of Americans who receive Social Security benefits, the New Year is a good time to review what they can expect from the program over the coming year. While there are changes every year, 2016 has some unusual changes that you need to know about if social security is part of your current retirement planning.
Recipients will need to deal with the fact that there will be no cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits in 2016 and for higher wage earners; the maximum Social Security benefit will fall in 2016 by $24 to $2639.
Recently (November 2) the bipartisan budget act was signed into law and with it came a number of social security strategy related changes. Those strategies include the following:
File and Suspend
File and Suspend for retroactive benefits
Divorced Spousal benefits
To review, let us look at an example of how file and suspend is used:
A husband and wife are both age 66 and at their full retirement age (FRA). The husband, with a monthly benefit of $2000 wants to wait until age 70 to collect his benefits. He wants to take full advantage of the 8% annual increase that would make his monthly benefit $2640. The wife, with no work history, is entitled to 50% of his benefit ($1000 per month) at her FRA. Since she will always be entitled to only 50% of his FRA benefits, it makes sense for her to file now. To do this the husband has to file for his benefits, and then suspend them until age 70.
So what are the changes with file and suspend in 2016? After April 30, this option is going away. In order to take advantage of file and suspend, the filer must be age 66 prior to or on April 30, 2016 and must have actually filed and suspended benefits. After April 30, 2016 file and suspend is not available.
These changes also apply to File and suspend for retroactive benefits. Under this strategy, the recipient is entitled to a lump sum of the benefits they would have received from the time they filed and suspended benefits to the current date. Again, as of April 30, 2016 file and suspend is no longer available and neither is the ability to collect retroactive payments unless you are 66 prior to April 30, 2016 and have filed and suspended.
When both spouses have a work history, another strategy they could utilize is Restricted Applications. In this scenario, the husband or wife is already collecting a SS benefit – the spouse at his/her FRA will collect a spousal benefit only from age 66 to age 70 and then at her age 70 switch over to his/her own benefit. Because he/she did not collect on their own benefit until age 70 his/her SS benefits received the 8% annual increase.
Under the new law the ability to receive a spousal only benefit (restricted application) will no longer be available to individuals who turn 62 after December 31, 2015.
Lastly, there are changes that impact divorced individuals’ social security strategies. Currently, law allows a divorced individual who qualifies for their own benefit to apply for only a spousal benefit on the ex-spouse’s earnings record if:
They were married for at least 10 years
Spouse B (who plans to collect the spousal benefit) is not remarried
Spouse B is full retirement age or older
Spouse B has not started collecting on their own record
Spouses have been divorced for at least 2 years
This also changes in 2016. Individuals can no longer file for a divorced spousal benefit then switch to their own benefit later unless they are age 62 before December 31, 2015.
It takes some work to keep up with Social Security’s changes. But doing so will leave you better prepared to handle what’s coming next year and give you the ability to manage your future Social Security strategies more effectively. If you are already taking advantage of any of these strategies, the recent changes do not affect you.
It is said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes.
There is no doubt that the Internal Revenue Service wants their share of any income received by US taxpayers, and distributions from Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) are no exception. Whether paid by the plan participant or an alternate payee, taxes are an inescapable part of the process.
Most people recognize that a plan participant must pay taxes on any distribution of QDRO benefits. However, what are the tax liabilities facing an alternate payee?
When the alternate payee is a spouse or former spouse who receives a share of the QDRO benefits from a retirement pan, he or she is also required to report the money received as if they were the actual plan participant. However, the spouse or former spouse is also entitled to a share of the participant’s cost basis (their investment in the contract). According to the IRS, the alternate payee’s share is equal to the participant’s cost basis multiplied by a fraction. This fraction is calculated as follows:
Present Value of the Benefits Payable to the Alternate Payee ÷ Present Value of All Benefits Payable to the Plan Participant = fraction
If the alternate payee is a child or other dependent of the plan participant, the taxes on benefits is assessed to the plan participant.
In some cases, an individual can roll over, tax-free, all or part of a QDRO distribution. If the alternate payee is either the spouse or former spouse of the plan participant, then he or she can roll over the distribution into another qualified retirement account (such as an IRA) and avoid any immediate tax liability on the QDRO distribution. Pursuant to the IRS, this option is not available to non-spousal alternate payees (e.g. children or other dependents).
The Divorce process is a stressful process that can easily bring out the worst in people. Some people even see divorce as a way to seek revenge on a spouse by seizing money and assets.
Although divorce can get you out of an unhappy marriage, it can also milk you for all you are worth if you don’t know your rights. Check out these 40 secrets from top divorce attorneys to help you protect your assets and stay on the winning side.
1. Don’t Let Emotions Lead Your Financial Decisions
People often want to take out their hurt feelings on their exes; however, it’s important not to let emotions interfere with the business at hand. In the long run, being spiteful could harm your own finances.
“Asking your lawyer to write a letter to your ex over who gets the $50 coffee table book is kind of nonsensical,” said Brendan Lyle, a former divorce attorney and CEO at BBL Churchill, a divorce finance firm. He went on to reveal that a short letter could cost you $500 in attorney fees.
2. Everything Is Divisible and Is Fair Game
Individuals often make the mistake of assuming that assets that are in their names can’t be claimed by spouses in a divorce. However, divorce experts caution that the opposite is true.
“Practically everything is divisible, including frequent flyer air miles or royalties from a book you wrote,” said Ann Narris, a Massachusetts attorney with the Narris Law Office & Family Mediation Partners.
Because the same holds true for liabilities like debt and credit cards, couples should be sure to consider all factors when doing their financial planning.
3. Make Big Purchases Before Filing for Divorce
Have a big purchase in mind, such as a new car?
“Most states issue automatic financial restraining orders prohibiting people from making big purchases or liquidating assets after the divorce is filed, absent a court order or an agreement,” said Narris.
In her practice, she advises those considering divorce to buy big items before filing.
4. Keep Track of Your Spouse’s Money
If you’re thinking of filing for divorce or legal separation, it’s a good idea to take a look at your spouse’s financial situation. According to Narris, spouses should start by tracking the partner’s new credit card and loan applications.
“People are more generous in their income reporting on credit or loan applications than they are in, say, their 1040,” said Narris, who went on to stress that loan applications could be crucial parts of a divorce discovery.
5. Gather Key Evidence Before Filing for Divorce
If you’re thinking of filing for divorce, it can be tough not to walk out the door when your spouse pushes your buttons. However, Narris recommended that individuals take time to collect evidence before a split. Along with taking pictures of assets, individuals should make copies of account statements and jot down any important numbers. Preparation is key if you hope to come out ahead in court.
6. Get Property Valued Before You Part Ways
When it comes to the divorce process, almost all property is fair game. However, spouses can’t hope to get their fair shares if they don’t know the value of assets.
“No sense in guessing on the worth of his baseball cards or your engagement ring — never mind a house or a business,” said Narris, who reminds couples that there are experts available who can appraise just about anything.
Doing your homework now is the best way to come out ahead down the line.
7. Don’t Hide Assets
You can try to deceive your spouse by hiding or concealing assets, but don’t forget that you’re also messing with the law. According to Narris, if what you’re hiding is discovered, you’ll lose your credibility in court. There could also be stiff penalties, including monetary sanctions. To protect yourself and your property during a divorce, it’s best to declare all assets upfront in the divorce process.
8. You Can Write Off Alimony Payments on Your Taxes
People who pay alimony are rarely grateful for the opportunity. Paying alimony can actually help you out come tax time, however. According to Narris, people who pay alimony to their exes can write it off as a tax deduction. On the other hand, those who receive alimony must report it as taxable income.
It’s important to note that alimony is different from child support, which is neither taxable nor deductible.
9. If Not Considered Alimony, the Income Is Not Taxable
If the transfer of money in a divorce is not considered alimony, the receiving spouse is in luck: These funds aren’t regarded as taxable income, according to Christian Denmon, founding partner of Denmon & Denmon, a personal injury, divorce and criminal defense law firm in Tampa, Fla.
Not so lucky is the payer, as there is no tax break for money transferred during the divorce process.
10. There Are Hidden Tax Implications to Watch Out For
During a divorce, it’s important to stay alert to hidden tax obligations.
“A husband might have purchased stock for $50 during the marriage,” said Denmon. “The stock has gone up in value so that at the time of the divorce, the husband ends up transferring $75 to the wife. If not otherwise addressed in the divorce settlement, the husband will be on the hook to pay taxes on the $25 gain on the stock.”
According to Denmon, spouses who are receiving real estate, stocks or bonds need to understand that taxable gains can leave them vulnerable.
11. Get Job Training or Update Your Education Before Filing
If you are currently being supported by your spouse, you might want to consider taking the time to dust off your resume and freshen up your skill set before seeking a divorce.
“Even if you receive support, the courts can impute income and expect you to be working if your kids are school aged and you are not of retirement age or disabled,” said Narris, who cautioned against “depend[ing] too much on a hopeful spousal support award.”
Updating your education now can help protect you later if things don’t go your way in court.
12. Familiarize Yourself With Your Finances Before You Split
Normally, one person in a household manages the finances. However, this arrangement can create a “power imbalance when it comes time to negotiate settlements,” according to Narris. So what can you do to protect yourself?
Seek professional help to guide you in making more informed decisions about finances being filing for divorce. Doing this will help you come out swinging when you get your day in court.
13. Consider Mediating Your Divorce
It’s no secret that divorce can be expensive. In fact, according to Narris, the average cost of legal fees in a divorce is $15,000. One way to cut down on these expenses is to use a mediator.
A mediator doesn’t work on behalf of any one party, just facilitates agreements. If you want to keep your divorce details behind closed doors while cutting costs, a mediator might be the best bet for both you and your bank account.
14. Know What Is Your Biggest Asset
According to Narris, many people mistakenly believe that their house is their biggest asset when it is actually a retirement or pension account. Even if your retirement account is less than robust now, the court will likely consider its future value when dividing assets.
“There are many ways to divide your portion of your spouse’s retirement asset (called a qualified domestic relations order) so give that due consideration,” said Narris.
15. If Your Lawyer Recommends a PI or Forensic Accountant, Hire One
Many individuals are hesitant to shell out for a private investigator or forensic accountant when going through a divorce, but sometimes, these professionals’ services are necessary.
According to Eva Cockerham, an attorney with Burke Jaskot law firm in Baltimore, “Private investigators are useful for investigating people who own small businesses, as independent data about numbers of customers, employees and resources can give a much fuller picture of a person’s true finances.”
Likewise, Cockerham noted that forensic accountants can give “insight as to whether a person going through a divorce is getting accurate information from their soon to be ex-spouse.” By spending a little now, you might be able to save yourself a bundle in the future.
16. The Most Expensive Lawyer Isn’t Always the Best
Pick your divorce lawyer wisely because your choice could save your bottom line.
“Find one that is experienced and knowledgeable but is also a good fit for you,” said Narris. “You have the power to set the tone for your divorce. The attorney should advise you but also respect your position on how to approach the negotiations.”
Just because an attorney has a high hourly rate doesn’t necessarily mean he or she will honor your wishes. For best results, go with your gut feeling.
17. Understand Debt Obligations
According to Heather Sunderman, a divorce attorney with Mirsky Policastri in the Washington, D.C. area, too many clients assume partners’ debts are joint when they’re not.
“Some states do not divide marital debt if it’s just in one person’s name, so if possible, during separation you may want to pay down that debt preferentially,” said Sunderman.
The last thing you want is to be on the hook for debts you didn’t accumulate.
18. Don’t Forget About Beneficiary Designations
Divorce attorneys note that many clients fail to remove former spouses from their beneficiary designations.
If you fail to remove these designations, “those amounts may end up being paid out to a former spouse,” said Sunderman. “Usually that’s not the result you want.”
For best results, handle beneficiary designations and other tedious paperwork as soon as possible.
19. Pay Court-Ordered Attorney Fees
Court-ordered attorney fees are no joke.
“The court can order one spouse to contribute to the other spouse’s attorney fees,” said Denmon, who went on to explain that this type of debt was treated in a special manner. When it comes to court-ordered attorney fees, the judge can throw the offending spouse in jail for failing to pay.
In light of these regulations, Denmon advises that spouses who are receiving financial help have language drafted into agreements clarifying how much money must be paid and by what date. Doing this gives spouses the ability “to enforce the agreement should the paying spouse fail to follow through with his agreement,” said Denmon.
20. Consider Your Income Before Asking for All the Deductible Items
Clients typically strive to get as much as possible in a divorce. However, according Russell Luna, a certified divorce financial analyst in Colorado, higher incomes can disqualify individuals from important tax deductions.
“If you file single and make more than $380,750, your personal exemption of $4,000 is not available,” said Luna.
In light of this fact, individuals might not want all the items they originally requested in a divorce. For best results, speak to a financial professional about your specific fiscal situation and options.
21. Take Advantage of Free Legal Advice
Most attorneys will offer free consultations, said Narris, who advises clients to “take advantage of that and get some basic information, see if the lawyer is the right fit.”
To ensure you make the right choice, be sure to consult with a few attorneys before coming to a hiring decision. After all, the outcome of your divorce depends in large part on the quality of your legal advice.
22. Be Mindful of the Date When Initiating Divorce
While you might be tempted to file as soon as possible, it’s important to note that property division is based on the date of marriage separation in some states. Typically, the court uses a formal date of separation (DOS) to determine property division and the value of certain assets.
“If you are expecting a large increase in the value of a major asset upon a certain occasion, be mindful of that when you decide to initiate the divorce,” said Narris.
23. Design a Joint Parenting Arrangement Wisely
Unlike claiming a child as a tax dependent, claiming head of household is not assignable, said Narris, who went on to explain that individuals either met the criteria or did not.
If you’re negotiating who will claim a child as a dependent, Narris said, “You can include a provision that the right to claim the child is dependent on the parent being up to date on their support obligation.”
24. Plan Finances for After the Divorce
Clients often neglect to consider how their financial planning can change after a divorce.
“Your risk aversion may be very different than your former spouse[‘s] and you do not need to keep the same investment trajectory you had before the divorce,” said Narris.
If you don’t know where to begin, you might want to hire a financial advisor. Remember to think long term when planning finances after divorce.
25. Have a Paper Trail
While most assets are divisible in divorce, there are some exceptions to the rule. Documents can help preserve what you believe to be separate property when it comes to divorce proceedings and should be collected beforehand.
“Too many times the necessary documents seem to disappear after a divorce starts, so to the highest degree possible, gather those documents before you start the divorce,” said Jeff Anderson, a Dallas family law attorney.
26. The Division of Property Can Be Complex
Dividing assets and properties isn’t always a simple numerical transaction.
“Negotiating the division of property is an art form all its own,” said Keith Nelson, a family law attorney with Orsinger, Nelson, Downing and Anderson, LLP in Dallas. “It’s a three-step process: Characterize the asset, value it, divide it.”
After the asset is identified as community property, separate property or both, figuring out the value can be tricky. “For instance, a bank account with cash in it is pretty easy to value — look at the balance,” said Nelson. “But a retirement account, a house or securities can have more complex issues.”
27. Retirement Accounts Are Not Worth the Statement Balance
Just as it can be difficult to value assets, couples often struggle to determine the true value of their retirement accounts. One reason that retirement accounts pose problems is that deferred tax will have to be paid at some point. In light of this fact, Nelson cautions clients that retirement accounts might be worth even less than the balance minus tax.
“If one of the parties will be liquidating a retirement account early, then the highest marginal tax rate and the early withdrawal penalty might need to be subtracted from the value of the account,” said Nelson, who went on to explain that the value of these assets is often drastically reduced as a result.
According to Nelson, “Even if the account is not going to be liquidated, the taxes which will be paid on the money at the time of retirement can be considered and a reduction of the overall value of the asset might [be], and very often is, appropriate.”
28. ‘Division of Property’ Depends on Where You Live
When a divorcing couple heads to court for a property dispute, state law is used to divide the property using one of two classifications: community property or equitable distribution. With community property, both spouses own income and assets equally, and items can be divided evenly. Additionally, individuals can keep separate property.
According to NOLO, a legal advice website, community property applies to the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin as well as Puerto Rico. Every other state uses equitable distribution, which involves “fairly” divvying up assets and money accrued during marriage. Knowing the law of the land can help you avoid surprises during your divorce proceedings.
29. Some States Are Better for Getting a Divorce
According to the government research site InsideGov, the five states with the easiest and most lenient divorce laws are Alaska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa and Washington. The ease of filing, fees and processing times are all considered as part of the rankings. If time and cost are of the essence, you might want to consider where you live before filing divorce papers.
30. Be Mindful of the Worst States for Divorce
Based off InsideGov’s data, the most difficult states to get a divorce include Arkansas, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Vermont. Arkansas takes the longest amount of time at 540 days. If you live in one of these states, you and your spouse might want to consider relocating to expedite the divorce process.
31. When in Doubt, Seek a Professional — Or It May Cost You
Todd Huettner, president of the residential and commercial real estate mortgage bank Huettner Capital and a financial analyst who has helped many individuals dealing with divorce, advises clients to seek professional help at all costs.
“A simple mistake that drops your credit score 40 points can cost you thousands on your next mortgage,” said Huettner. “Making a mistake separating accounts, renaming beneficiaries or not setting up life insurance properly can cost you hundreds of thousands and impact you for years.”
32. Make Sure You Actually Implement the Divorce
Despite their eagerness to be divorced, many people actually fail to complete all the steps needed to make their divorces legal, according to Huettner. For the best results, clients should make sure all their bases are covered and check up on spouses to ensure they have completed the necessary steps.
“You don’t want to find out that your ex-spouse never refinanced the house five years ago like he was supposed to and [it’s] now in foreclosure,” said Huettner. “By the time you find out about it, your credit will be destroyed for years.”
33. Compromise Could Help You
You win some, you lose some, right? Unfortunately, divorcing spouses often refrain from compromising out of spite.
While you might be tempted to fight every battle that comes your way, agreeing to compromises could save you a lot of headaches and money on legal fees when going through a divorce. As an added bonus, your decision to compromise could encourage your spouse to do the same.
34. Don’t Forget About Health Insurance
Although federal law might dictate that you have health insurance access under your former spouse, Narris cautions clients against relying on COBRA coverage long term due to the high cost.
Her advice: “Start doing legwork for available options that may be less expensive. Better yet, find a job for yourself that has benefits.”
35. Belts Are Always Tightened During a Divorce
While individuals tend to factor the price of getting divorced into their budgets, they don’t always consider other everyday expenses incurred during the process.
Narris recommends that clients carve out a little extra money to care for their personal needs during this difficult time. “Factor in a gym membership, therapy co-payments, massages,” said Narris. “You will want to be as healthy as you can to help your kids through the process, and you never know when you may have a bad day.”
36. Take Action but Be Wary
Savvy divorce attorneys advise their clients to be cautious when filing for divorce.
According to Luna, it’s important to make sure you have the current statement for your spouse’s brokerage account before announcing and filing for the divorce. After all, a deceitful spouse could very easily liquidate the account with no paper trail by neglecting to cash checks until later. The last thing you want is to find out your spouse set up a new account after the divorce settlement while leaving the current brokerage statement with a zero balance.
37. Avoid Underestimating Living Expenses
You need to know what your spouse earns monthly, as well as where the money goes. According to a Divorcenet.com article, when considering the cost of future living expenses, it’s important to take into account the effect of inflation.
Narris recommended keeping receipts so you have a good idea of what everything actually costs. Doing this will help you maintain quality of life after a divorce.
38. Don’t Let Emotions Get in the Way of Selling the Family Home
Whether you have an emotional attachment to your family home or are just being vindictive toward your former spouse, be sure you’re thinking wisely about your decisions with regard to shared property. You don’t want to discover later that you gave up other assets just to keep a home in which you can’t afford to live.
39. Know What You Value
When contemplating divorce, it’s important to consider what assets you value most and be prepared to let some things go.
“A major mistake in divorce that everyone can get trapped into is spending hundreds or thousands of dollars fighting for something that you don’t even want,” said Narris.
Take your time so you can make the most rational and intelligent decisions.
40. Dress Appropriately for Court
It might seem like a small matter, but buying nice clothes for court can boost one’s confidence.
“You will feel better and likely fair better with the judge,” said Narris.
Of course, clients should remember to keep it professional and avoid dressing in a manner that’s flashy or overly pompous. Play it safe by keeping clothing neutral and accessories to a minimum.
It’s important to remember that divorce law varies by state, and some of these tips might not be applicable in your region. Be sure to find a divorce attorney in your area to advise you on how to get a divorce. Doing this will help protect your assets and property while ensuring the divorce process goes as smoothly as it possibly can.
Tips for Financial Security After Divorce Settlement
Meet with an Lawyer
Even if you’re hoping for a simple divorce, you can still benefit significantly from consulting an attorney who specializes in divorce law. A lawyer can be objective, advising you of your rights, obligations and options and walking you through issues surrounding alimony, child custody and a divorce settlement. During this emotional period, an attorney will be able to help you focus on critical details regarding your divorce finances.
Estimate what you and your spouse are worth
The court may require a list of all marital assets and liabilities you and your spouse have jointly and separately. You should:
List all financial accounts and assets the two of you have, either individually or jointly. That includes stocks, bonds, real estate, mutual funds and workplace retirement plans.
Do an inventory of household possessions, including vehicles, appliances, electronic equipment and furniture.
Once you’ve accounted for all assets, list each of them under one of three categories:
1. Your pre-marital assets (things you brought into the marriage). 2. Your spouse’s belongings. 3. Marital property, or property acquired during the marriage.
The court will decide how to “equitably” divide marital property. Pennsylvania laws does not automatically define “equitably” as “equally.” The court and applicable law will also determine the ownership and division of all property and the responsibility for debt incurred during the marriage.
Itemize your liabilities — debts like mortgages, home equity loans, car loans, credit card balances, etc. Essentially anything else you and your spouse owe money for. List liabilities as yours, your spouse’s, or joint.
As an aside, if your marriage is in trouble, from this point on, it might be a good idea to postpone new and large purchases as well as the assumption of any new debt.
Review your Income and cash flow
After divorce, you’ll be a single person and maybe even a single parent. Financially, things will be much different from the way they’ve been, so it’s important to estimate your cash flow after the divorce, so you can plan for your new financial reality. You should also try to forecast future income to enable the court to determine child custody and alimony payments.
Give serious thought to creating a post-divorce budget as a tool for managing your money going forward. A budget can help you determine how you will need to scale back your lifestyle.
A budget can also help you focus on the income side of your cash flow. For example, you might realize that after the divorce, you will need to find a higher-paying job, or go to work if you’re not currently employed. You may even decide to go back to school as a way of enhancing your future income potential.
Review your insurance
Make sure you will have adequate health, disability, and life insurance coverage after a divorce. If you’re currently covered by your spouse’s employer-provided health plan, you can usually keep existing coverage for at least 36 months after a divorce under the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA). You will have to pay premiums for COBRA coverage, and the premiums will probably be much more expensive, so you need to account for them in your post-divorce budget.
If you’re employed but don’t currently use your own employer-sponsored health plan, consider signing up for it. A group policy at work is typically much cheaper than an individual policy purchased on your own. Employers typically do not permit you to sign up for health insurance mid-year, but if you’ve experienced a major life event like a divorce, it may be possible.
After a divorce settlement, remember to review and, if necessary, change beneficiary designations on your life insurance policies and retirement/investment accounts, as permitted by court order. Definitely discuss your situation with a financial advisor
Your attorney may be able to provide limited guidance on financial issues. However, for broader assistance with the financial aspects of a divorce settlement, consider consulting with a financial advisor. He or she will also be able to guide you through longer-term financial planning, which might address issues like debt reduction, education funding, retirement planning and estate planning.
Marriage is a legal institution with a big impact on your finances, your retirement, and particularly your Social Security. How are your Social Security benefits determined after divorce? Here are some “must-knows” as you consider marriage or divorce.
Marriage: The good news
On the plus side, anyone who’s married has access to Social Security spousal payments . The payment amount is up to 50% of your spouse’s full Social Security payment (his or her payment at Full Retirement Age, or FRA, currently 66).
Spousal payments provide a “floor level” of payments — if your own Social Security is small, you can get the larger spousal payments. There’s no marriage penalty, just an opportunity to get at least the spousal payment level.
Most retirees are uninformed about how Social Security benefits are calculated, and often overlook how their change in marital status affects this critical retirement asset.
1. If your marriage lasted 10 years or longer and you have been divorced for at least two years, you are eligible for a divorced spousal benefit. You can claim either your own benefit or your ex-spouse’s benefit, whichever is higher.
2. You can also claim both benefits. Many divorced spouses optimize their Social Security by beginning their divorced spousal benefit at age 66, which is currently the full retirement age (FRA), and then switching to their own benefit at age 70.
For example, assume that Jane is eligible for a personal benefit of $1,500 per month at age 66 or a divorced spousal benefit of $1,000. If she files as a spouse first, she can claim $1,000 per month now and let her personal benefit grow to $1,980 by age 70, which is 32% higher than her age 66 benefit. This method is called a restricted filing application because Social Security assumes you are filing for the higher of the two benefits unless you specify that you are restricting your larger personal benefit.
When compared to simply starting with the larger benefit, filing as a spouse first will break even in 8½ years after age 66 (or by age 73½) and will provide Jane with an extra $68,160 in total benefits at her life expectancy. We’re not talking chump change.
3. If you begin claiming divorced spousal benefits between age 62 and FRA, you don’t get the opportunity to restrict your filing. Those who file for early benefits are required to take the higher of personal or spousal benefits. In fact, if you work during this time, your benefit could be adjusted downward due to the so-called earnings limit.
4. Getting remarried after a divorce generally means that you lose whatever benefit you may have been eligible for from your former spouse. For most people, this might not be a big deal because it only takes a year of remarriage to become eligible based on your new spouse’s record. The only exception to this loss of benefits occurs if your second spouse dies.
If you have been married for 10 years more than once, you could be eligible for both benefits, but you’ll only receive the higher of the two. However, if neither ex has remarried, they are both eligible to claim spousal benefits on your record.
5. You don’t need to wait for your divorced spouse to file for benefits to become eligible for spousal benefits. If you are both at least age 62, which is the earliest you are eligible for personal or spousal benefits, and you have been divorced for at least two years, Social Security allows you to make an independent filing decision.
Social Security Eligibility When Your Ex-Spouse is Deceased
If your ex-husband dies, you may receive benefits on his record, as long as your marriage lasted for at least 10 years. If you don’t meet the 10-year marriage rule, you can still qualify for benefits if all of the following are true: – you’re caring for your ex-husband’s natural or legally adopted child – the child is under age 16, or disabled, and – the child is getting benefits on your ex-husband’s work record. Your benefits will continue until the child reaches age 16 or the child’s disability ceases. The amount of benefits you receive as a divorced spouse will not affect the amount of benefits other survivors (such as another ex-spouse) receive on your ex’s record.
Because divorce and remarriage add complexity to your Social Security decisions, seek professional financial advice before making such an important decision.
Don’t Forget: You must apply for Social Security benefits. You can do so by going on-line to SSA.gov, calling 800-772-1213, or making an appointment with your local office.