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Social Security Benefits for Women

Depending on the stage of life you are in currently you may need to tap into your Social Security benefits or at least learn more about them. The beginning of the new year is right around the corner and having better access to information that can be of help to you is a resolution worth making. Fortunately, there is a great deal of information available to you on the internet about Social Security benefits and the extent to which you can take advantage of them as you move into various stages of life. Whether you need to learn more about retirement, disability, or survivor’s benefits this blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is designed to help you learn more about the world of Social Security benefits. 

Social Security numbers are usually assigned immediately after birth to any baby born in the United States or on U.S. soil. Your mother/father probably filled out paperwork while you were in the hospital to have a Social Security number assigned to you. That number may have been needed to sign you up for school, receive medical care or land your first summer job as a teenager. From the beginning of your life, Social Security was a part of the things that you did and the places that you went. 

If you are a woman who is reading this blog post, then you know the difficulties associated with trying to be a mother and a career-oriented woman. You may be in a position where you have not had children and do not plan on having a child. In that case, your life may revolve in large part around your work, and working outside the home is a major component of your life. This is not a path for every woman but if you are living your life working outside the home then your life has largely been focused on building up your resume and working towards various career goals.

Or, you may have worked outside the home for some time and then have left the workforce to raise children. This is a common situation for many women who choose to stay home to raise children while they are young. Then, once the kids have grown up and have started school, you may have entered the workforce and moved on from there. The final option for you as a working person would be to have never worked outside the home. However, any "stay at home" mom or dad can tell you that your work is never done when it comes to taking care of the home and the kids. As a father to four kids, I can tell you that taking care of the kids is usually more difficult than practicing law. 

It doesn’t matter if you have worked previously, are working now, have never worked outside the home, or have experienced some combination of the two. You need to be aware of how your Social Security benefits can impact your life. Not understanding these subjects can lead to situations where you and your family are left without recourse in certain situations when you otherwise could have been cared for by these benefits. Many people hear stories about Social Security going bankrupt or belly-up or whatever phrase you want to use and assume that it is not worth it to even learn about this subject. The reality could not be further from the truth. On the bright side, once you learn the basics you will most all the subject matter covered before you when it comes to Social Security. 

How does Social Security work (no pun intended)?

Your employer collects Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) withholdings each pay period and then reports your earnings electronically to Social Security. This is a method that Social Security uses to track how much you earn. What you earn throughout your working life determines in large part how much you can receive in Social Security retirement, disability, spouses, and survivors’ coverage for you and your family. You can earn up to four Social Security credits each year and you need 40 credits to qualify for retirement pay. We can take 40 credits and divide that by the four credits that you can earn each year and quickly figure out that you need to have worked for at least ten years to qualify for retirement benefits. Keep this tidbit in mind if you expect to be able to receive Social Security retirement benefits when you reach your golden years. 

Getting married- what impact does this have on your Social Security benefits?

Probably the most encountered situation when it comes to getting married and your Social Security benefits is the desire to change your name. Most of the time this means that you are a woman who needs to change her name to match her new husband. Or, you may have gotten a divorce and want to switch back to a former last name- whether that be a maiden name or a former married the last name that you used to have. There is a process that you can review on the Social Security website which involves completing some paperwork and turning that in to Social Security to get a new card. This process takes some time and effort, but it pays off, in the long run, to have all of your information matches up. 

Disability- it can happen to you, so be prepared

Life is full of unexpected events. About the only predictable thing about our lives is their unpredictability. I can’t speak for any of you, but I know from my experiences that just about when I start to be able to feel like I’ve hit a groove or been able to find some consistency in life something strange or unforeseen happens. That’s when we figure out that something has changed our lives- either permanently or temporarily. 

One of those unexpected events could be a disability or impairment that impacts your life. There are many ways to say that you are "disabled." You may be eligible for an insurance payout through work, a private policy, or another insurance policy offered to you that pays you "disability" income for a certain period. Long Term Disability, Short Term Disability, Accidental Death Disability, or Social Security Disability are examples of disability insurance that can potentially be paid to you if you are injured or suffer some sort of impairment. 

Social Security determines whether you are disabled based on questions regarding your ability to work. Specifically, if it is determined by Social Security that you are unable to return to work at any full-time job you’ve held in the past fifteen years in addition to being unable to work elsewhere in the national or regional economy then you will be found to be disabled. The older you are the easier it is for you to be found to be disabled. People can wait years and years to receive a decision from Social Security about their disability application. 

This is due in part to Social Security being notoriously slow but also having many levels to the process. You can apply for disability at the initial level and be denied. You can then ask Social Security to reconsider their denial and then receive a new decision at the reconsideration level. Next, if a denial is made at reconsideration, then you can appeal the decision and take your case before an administrative law judge. The judge will issue a favorable, partially favorable, or unfavorable decision-based in part on your medical treatment and in part on the testimony that you provide in a hearing before the judge. This decision can be appealed to an Appeals Council or a federal district court. 

There are two types of Social Security applications that can be filed for disability: Title II (Social Security Disability Insurance) and Title XVI (Supplemental Security Income). Whatever claim you file you need to be aware that the money you receive will not be a large sum. Rather, Social Security payments will pay you a relatively small amount of money. You may be able to apply for benefits and receive them while you are alive. On the other hand, you can apply and receive benefits now and then put your spouse and/or children to receive them after you pass away. 

Social Security can help when you lose a loved one

Nobody likes to lose a loved one. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life that is unavoidable. In that case, you should know that if you are a former spouse or minor child of a deceased person then you should inquire about survivor's benefits from Social Security. Whether you can receive these types of benefits will depend in large part on whether your spouse or loved one has filed a title 16 or title 2 application for disability benefits. Specifically, I am referencing something called survivor’s benefits. These benefits can help you come to terms with the passing of your loved one. There may also be a significant financial downturn for your family if your spouse was the primary breadwinner for your household. Additionally, your 18-year-old or under child can also receive Social Security benefits when you or your co-parent pass away.

What to do when you are thinking about retirement?

Retirement benefits are probably the most thought of benefit offered through Social Security. These benefits, hypothetically speaking, will last you for the rest of your life so you must learn about them here and prepare yourself on how to receive them and keep track of them as you get older. Your ability to receive a retirement benefit is a great sign that you have worked for at least ten years. Since women on average earn less than their spouses then it is critical to note that you can receive back more in benefits than you had paid into the system. 

There are several factors at play when it comes to the number of men and women who can be eligible for Social Security benefits. Your current and former marital status will play a role in determining how much money you can receive in monthly benefits. The amount of benefit that you receive would be based on your lifetime earnings record. If you have a spouse who has passed away, then your ability to receive benefits depends in large part on their work history. 

Your ability to receive retirement benefits does not get cut off if you are receiving benefits under the name of your spouse. Divorced surviving spouses can also qualify to receive benefits if their marriage to the deceased person lasted for more than ten years. You must have been married to the deceased spouse for at least 9 months and not have remarried before the age of 60. If you meet the durational requirements laid out here, there are a few more bits of information that I think is worthwhile for you to take in. 

Women and retirement income 

For many years, a woman's ability to retire and receive Social Security income was a point of major interest among people who studied this topic closely. The reason for this is that most women did not work outside the home. For those that did, it was likely that they did not work long enough to qualify to receive Social Security benefits. The main avenue that these women took to receive retirement benefits through Social Security was to do based on the employment record of their husbands. Their history of being married, getting divorced, or having their husbands pass away impacted their eligibility to receive benefits a great deal. Therefore, one of the most significant aspects of this discussion isn't necessarily women and their shifting towards working outside the home. Rather, the more interesting and important trend is women and their changing place in relationships. 

As of about twenty years ago, more than two-thirds of women between the ages of 40 to 69 had achieved martial histories that allowed them to have an option for either spouse's or widow's benefits based on the retirement rules of Social Security. This is based on a study commissioned by Social Security and published on their website. However, it is important to note a finding that likely is even more true today than it was back in 2001 when their study originated. What the Social Security Administration found was that more women had expressed to the Social Security Administration in 2001 that they had never been married or had been engaged in shorter marriages than had been true in 1985, the last year that a similar study had been conducted. With a greater tendency towards either never marrying or divorcing earlier a married woman in our generation may have even less eligibility to take advantage of the spousal/ex-spousal retirement benefits offered by the government. 

Where does this leave us today as we conclude our blog post? One thing that I would mention is that very few people think about their marriage in terms of retirement eligibility or other benefits eligibility. While there are aware that their health insurance comes from their spouse or their spouse's employer, I don't run into people who plan out their marriage based on their ability to remain current in health insurance or retirement benefits. Life comes at us so quickly that most of us are concerned about the day-to-day workings of the marriage rather than thinking in terms of being eligible for something like Social Security retirement benefits. 

However, if you are a person who has not worked outside the home to an extent where you are eligible for retirement benefits under your history then this may be a worthwhile consideration for you. Think about if you are a person in your golden years- nearing retirement age- but have not worked outside the home. You may have stayed at home to care for a sick relative or remained at home to care for your children. If you have married at a later age, it is worthwhile to consider the length of your marriage and whether you meet the ten-year durational requirement to receive retirement benefits under your spouse's work history if you have never been married before. 

With so many options and factors to consider you need someone who can help you manage these issues within the context of a divorce. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are uniquely suited to attend to those concerns and help guide you through the process of a divorce if that is the step you need to take. Our team of attorneys is professional, diligent, and proactive when it comes to protecting your rights and achieving favorable results for you in a potential divorce case. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as to develop an understanding of how your family may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case. 

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