Webinar in Review: Part 1: The Grey Divorcée

Contributed by: Jacki Roessler, CDFATM Jacki Roessler


Social Security Tips for Grey Divorcees: 3 Things We Bet You Didn’t Know

(Revised and updated from an original blog posted in July, 2015) by Jacki Roessler, CDFA™ and Melissa Joy, CFP®)

Back in July, 2015, Melissa and I presented a workshop on Social Security benefits and divorce to attorneys with the intent of giving them information to protect their clients. Since that time, we’ve both worked with many grey divorce (i.e. over age 55) clients who benefited greatly from this advice. We believe now is a good time to bring these issues directly to those in the process of divorce.

1. It is most likely NOT better to claim Social Security early, at age 62.

Generally, as long as you can afford to wait to age 66 and you’re in good health with a reasonable life expectancy, it’s far better to wait to full retirement age (FRA) to collect, in order to maximize lifetime Social Security benefits.

This seemed counter-intuitive for many of the workshop attendees, as it was for me when I began researching this topic. However, there is a steep reduction in benefits for those who collect early. That reduction lasts a lifetime. Keeping in mind that Social Security is an income stream that cannot be outlived, and life expectancy for Americans has increased dramatically, any number crunching will back up this tip. Think Social Security might go bankrupt? Despite what you’ve heard, this is an extremely unlikely scenario for the baby boomer generation and beyond.

Of course, if you need the cash flow and don’t have other sources of income, this strategy may not be feasible.

2. 10 years married is the magic number.

Ex-spouses are entitled to receive up to 50% of their former spouse’s Social Security benefit or 100% of the benefit on their own work history, whichever is greater. However, in order to qualify, the marriage had to last 10 consecutive years and the recipient ex-spouse cannot be remarried.

Suppose Sarah, a lower-wage earner, is in a marriage with a high-wage-earning spouse. Sarah’s ex-husband’s FRA Social Security benefit is $2,400. Sarah could receive 50% of her ex’s benefit ($1,200 per month) or the benefit on her own work history, $700 per month. Wouldn’t Sarah prefer bumping up to the divorced spouse retirement benefit in lieu of claiming her own?

Unfortunately, we see cases all the time where the marriage lasted close to 10 years — but not quite! This is often a critical planning error. Some couples might be willing to stay married for an additional year to have access to a larger lifetime income stream for the low-wage-earning spouse.

Keep in mind that when a divorced spouse’s retirement benefit is paid, it doesn’t impact the high-wage earners benefit in any way. They can still receive 100% of their own Social Security benefit. In fact, as long as the high-wage earner was married to each spouse for 10 consecutive years, he or she could have up to 4 ex-spouses collecting a divorced spouse benefit on their earnings.

3. Consider not remarrying before age 60.

Social Security Widow’s benefits can be up to 100% of the deceased spouse’s Full Retirement Age benefit. This rule applies to ex-spouses as well. Sarah in the example above would be entitled to receive as much as $2,400 per month (remember that her own workers’ benefit was $700 per month and monthly spousal benefits were $1,200). However, there is a little-known caveat: the ex-spouse can’t remarry before age 60. In the example above, Sarah would surely consider putting off her pending marriage to her new beau, Mark, until she turns 60. If the remarriage occurs after age 60, Social Security Widow benefits would still be available.

If you’re going through a “grey” divorce and want more detailed information, please click on the link below to watch our webinar replay.

As always, we’re here to help. If you need assistance, contact Jacki at Jacki.Roessler@centerfinplan.com or Melissa at Mellisa.Joy@centerfinplan.com.

Jacki Roessler, CDFATM is a Divorce Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Jacki Roessler and not necessarily those of Raymond James. This is a hypothetical example for illustration purposes only. Actual investor results will vary. This is a hypothetical example for illustration purposes only. Actual investor results will vary. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation.