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Social Security benefit are an important source of income for women, either in retirement, when they become disabled, or when they lose a working spouse prior to retirement age. The way women live their lives sometime negatively impacts their retirement income, including Social Security, so women must be especially diligent in learning about their benefits.  To utilize this source of income and be sure you are receiving all that you are entitled to, every woman should know the answers to these five questions:

  • What social security benefits you are entitled to if you become disabled or when you retire?
  • How are your retirement benefits is calculated?
  • How are your disability benefits is calculated?
  • How are your survivor’s benefit is calculated?
  • How does divorce impact your benefits?

Generally, Social Security benefits are based on the number of years a person works and paid into the social security system and the number of credits earned. [1]  Credits are based on the worker’s total wage and self-employment income during the year, no matter when the actual work was done.  In 2017, a worker earns one credit for each $1,300.00 she earns.  She can earn up to four credits per year.  Each year this amount goes up slightly.

There are three kinds of benefits that a worker or her family can receive–retirement, disability, or survivor benefits.

Retirement benefits are available to all persons who has worked and paid social security taxes.  To be entitled to Social Security retirement, anyone born after 1929 must have earned 40 credits, which means she had to work for 10 years.  The amount of your benefit is based on your earnings, up to a maximum $3517 per month depending on when you retire.  The average benefit is approximately $1,369 per month.

Disability Benefits are “available only to people with impairments so severe that they prevent any kind of significant, profitable work. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.”[2]  Two programs are available for individuals with:  (1) Social Security Disability Insurance based on one’s disability and earnings history, and (2) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on financial need.  The average disabled worker receives $1,172 per month in Social Security disability.  A person who receives SSI in 2017 receives a maximum of $735 per month.  Additional disability benefits exist  for people who are blind or have low vision.

Survivor’s benefits are available for certain surviving/divorced spouses, minor children (including stepchildren under certain circumstances), and dependent parents.  These benefits are based on a worker’s work and earnings history and are a percentage of that worker’s benefit depending on the age the survivor and its relationship to the worker.  Even if you are divorced from your spouse, you may be able to receive benefits based on a former spouse if the marriage lasted 10 years or more.  These benefits may even be available before a surviving former spouse reaches retirement age if she is caring for the worker’s minor child(ren).

The easiest way for you to get information about your Social Security benefits is by creating your own My Social Security Account.  For more information about social security benefits and applying, visit https://www.ssa.gov/, or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, or contact your local Social Security office.

[1] https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/ifyou.html

[2] https://blog.ssa.gov/theres-plenty-you-should-know-about-social-security-disability-benefits-2/