Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.
Love and marriage don’t always last forever. But if your marriage has lasted 10 years or more, the financial benefits can last a lifetime.
This is because you may be able to get Social Security based on your ex-spouse’s benefits instead of your own, even if you were divorced decades ago.
The philosophy is that both spouses often contribute economically during the marriage, even if only one person was employed. The Social security program the rules protect those who have spent most of their working years raising a family or playing a supporting role to their spouse and may not have Pension saving of their own.
Here’s how the rules work and what steps you need to take to apply for benefits through an ex-spouse.
Social security rules after divorce
The maximum benefit you can get based on a spouse’s record – whether you are currently married or divorced – is 50% of full retirement age benefit to. Full retirement age is the age at which you are entitled to 100% of your benefits. It’s 66 or 67, depending on your date of birth.
If your ex-spouse predeceases you, you will generally be eligible to receive survivors benefits up to 100% of the monthly payment that person was receiving, just as you could if a current spouse died.
People with long work experience will generally be entitled to a larger benefit based on their own income rather than that of a spouse. Social Security will give you the biggest benefit, but not both.
If you are entitled to more money through your ex-spouse, they will technically give you any benefit you earned based on your record. Then they will use your ex’s file to make up the difference.
Are you looking to get revenge on an ex-spouse by claiming his social security? Pass. Your decision will not affect their benefits, or their current spouse if they have remarried. If they’ve been married multiple times, all of their exes are allowed to claim on their file.
Sometimes a divorce settlement will state that one spouse cannot collect Social Security based on the other person’s record. Such stipulations are totally absurd. The Social Security Administration says they are “worthless and never enforced.”
Since your Social Security checks won’t affect your ex in any way, the only reason to try to claim his benefits is if you think you can get more money. If you suspect that their file maximize your social securityFollow these steps.
1. Make sure you can answer “yes” to these questions
To qualify for Social Security benefits from an ex, you must be able to answer “yes” to these four questions.
- Have you been married for 10 years or more? If your marriage lasted less than 10 years, you will not be entitled to ex benefits. You must also be divorced for at least two years before you can start receiving checks based on your ex-spouse’s background, unless that person has already started receiving benefits.
- Are you at least 62 years old? This is the minimum age to start Social Security retirement benefits, regardless of which record you use. However, you may qualify regardless of your age if you are caring for your ex’s child who is under 16 or disabled. If your ex-spouse is deceased, you may be eligible for survivor benefits at age 60 or at age 50 if you are disabled.
- Are you still single? If you are currently married, you can only apply on your own record or on your current spouse’s record. You will also only be eligible for 50% of that spouse’s full benefit. What if you’ve been married and divorced multiple times? Social Security will use the record of the ex-spouse that gives you the greatest benefit. Remember though that only marriages that lasted 10 years or more will count.
- Does your ex qualify for benefits? In addition to the minimum age of 62, Social Security requires at least 40 work credits, equivalent to 10 years of full-time work, to start benefits. If your ex does not meet these criteria, you have no compensation to claim. Note that they do not need to receive benefits. They just have to be eligible.
2. Gather your ex’s information
You’re going to need information to prove to Social Security that you’re eligible for your ex’s benefits. Be prepared to provide your marriage license and divorce decree.
Social Security will also need to locate your ex’s file. It will be easier if you still have their social security number. If you no longer have it, Social Security may be able to find his file if you can provide the date of birth of the ex-spouse, his place of birth and the names of his parents.
3. Resist the urge to tell your ex.
Remember: your decision to apply for more Social Security on your ex’s case doesn’t affect him in any way. So there is absolutely no reason to contact them about it. You do not need their consent to get benefits based on their record. Social Security will not contact them about your claim.
4. Ask Social Security whose record gives you the best benefit
Now take the information you gathered about your ex to Social Security to determine which case will give you the most benefit. You can call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or visit your local office. An appointment is not required, but making one can reduce your wait time.
5. Delay as long as possible (but not too long)
The sooner you collect benefits, the lower your monthly checks will be, regardless of which file you apply for. The 50% you can claim from an ex-spouse’s background is the maximum you’ll get if you wait until the full retirement age of 66 or 67. For each year before that date, you permanently reduce your benefits by 6.66%. If you apply at age 62, you will only be entitled to 32.5% of your ex’s benefit.
Don’t wait too long, though. When you collect benefits on your own file, you get an additional 8% for each year you delay full retirement age until your benefits reach a maximum of 70 years. But when you receive spousal benefits, you don’t earn deferred retirement credits. . You won’t get any extra money if you’re past full retirement age, so there’s no point in delaying any further.
A final note: In the past, a common Social Security strategy was to claim as soon as possible based on a current or former spouse’s record, then move to your own larger benefit later. But the rules changed under a 2015 law called the Bipartisan Budget Law. This is now only an option if you were born on or before January 2, 1954.
Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click on links in our stories.