What Is The Best Way For Me To File?

Dec 30 2016 - 11:00am

I was married for more than ten years and divorced for 16 years. I was born on December 31, 1954. Because I cannot file for a divorced spousal benefit at age 66 and let my own retirement grow until age 70 (which had been my plan), I am confused about how to file. I am hoping to wait until age 70 to do so. Regardless, what is the best way for me to file? It seems from reading your responses, there is a possiblity sometimes of a divorced benefit. My ex husband earns a higher income.
Thank you. Elizabeth

Hi Elizabeth,

As you know, whenever you file for either divorced spousal benefits or retirement benefits on your own record, you'll be deemed to be filing for both benefits thanks to the new law passed by Congress last year (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/deemedfaq.html). And, you'll basically just receive roughly the higher of the 2 benefits. That is, your own full rate inclusive of any delayed retirement credits, or 50% of your ex's full retirement age benefit (PIA).

So, it may be best to wait until age 70 to apply, assuming that your own benefit rate is more than 50% of your ex-husband's PIA. But, on the other hand, if your own benefit rate would be less than 50% of your ex's PIA even if you waited until age 70 to start, it would likely be better to start taking benefits at age 66, which is your full retirement age.

Unless you and your ex are on good speaking terms, it may be difficult to know how much his benefit rate is. Social Security can't tell you due to the privacy act, but they should be able to tell you how much you would receive if you applied for divorced spousal benefits. Of course, the answer may be zero if your own benefit rate is more than half of your ex's.

By the way, this could all change if your ex dies before you. At that point, you could become eligible for the higher of his full benefit rate or your own. And, if he dies before you file for benefits, you would have the option of filing for one type benefit (i.e. retirement or surviving divorced spousal), without being deemed to file for both.

Best, Jerry