The 10-Year Married Mark Provides These Social Security Benefits

By Jeffrey Levine, IRA Technical Expert
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Divorce is often an expensive endeavor, but sometimes there are steps you can take to minimize that pain. Take Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, for instance.  According to recent reports, the couple is going to be divorcing after just more than 10 years of marriage.

10 years is a pretty significant milestone for a married couple to hit, but not just because it’s a nice round, “pretty” number. It has financial implications as well. For instance, once you are married to someone for 10 or more years, you are eligible to claim Social Security benefits off of their earnings history (though if you later remarry that may change). Such benefits include divorced-spousal benefits and divorced-widow (er) benefits.

In terms of dollars, what can that actually mean over the course of your retirement? More than you might think! Let’s use Affleck and Garner’s current situation as an example. Now I have no idea what their actual incomes have been from year to year, but it’s probably safe to bet that when they hit their Full Retirement Age (FRA) – which for them is 67 – they’ll each be entitled to the maximum, unreduced benefit available at the time (as a result of having maximum Social Security-taxable earnings for 35 years or more).

Assuming the rules don’t change between now and then, at 67 they could each file a restricted application and receive only their divorced-spousal benefit. This would allow them to receive more than an estimated $30,000 per year from Social Security, while allowing their own benefit to accrue 8% delayed credits each year until 70. At that point, they could switch over to their own, much higher benefit – which could easily be over $80,000 by that point – for the rest of their lives.

All told, compared to just waiting to take their own benefit at 70, this could net Affleck and Garner each about an extra $100,000 over the course of their retirement. If either Garner or Affleck dies prematurely, the survivor would have an opportunity to get even more “free” money by coordinating the divorced-widow(er) benefit.  Now I doubt, given their past and future expected success that any of this will be critical to either Affleck or Garner, but for many people, every dollar in retirement counts.

So what’s the point? What does all of this mean for you? Two things, actually.

First, as crazy as this may sound, if you’ve been married for close to 10 years and are thinking about calling it quits, consider pushing back your divorce date until you reach that special 10-year mark. Obviously that’s not always possible, and there can be reasons why you might not want to wait that long – financial and otherwise – but it’s at least worth contemplating. It could net you a substantial sum come retirement, particularly if you’re a much lower earner or have been out of the workforce for long stretches.

Second, when it comes time to plan and/or claim your Social Security benefit, make sure that you are aware of all potential options. The Social Security website, books, calculators and other media can be helpful, but it’s often best to sit down with someone who can help guide you through the process of selecting the best option for you and your family.

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