Is Social Security Unfair Sometimes?

Q. I am 61 years old. My husband is only 51. I have worked most of my life and paid Social Security taxes for many years. And now I’ve learned that I will not be able to collect a dime of my Social Security until my husband is getting his own Social Security. This is totally unfair!

A. Yes, it would be totally unfair if it was true. But it’s not true. You can get your own Social Security retirement benefit, beginning as early as age 62, whether your husband is 51 or 151 … or 21, for that matter. His age, and his Social Security eligibility, have nothing to do with your potential entitlement to benefits.

It is true that you wouldn’t be able to collect any dependent wife’s benefits on his record until he is old enough for Social Security and getting his own monthly checks.

But you are talking about your own monthly checks. And nothing about him and his Social Security has anything to do with you and your own Social Security retirement benefits.

Q. I just heard something about Social Security that is making my blood boil! I am 63 years old and never worked outside the home. My husband is 62 and is still working. He doesn’t plan to retire and apply for Social Security until he is 66 years old. And I was told I have to wait until he signs up for Social Security before I can get any

Social Security myself. If this is true, I’m upset. But here is what really ticks me off. I have a friend who is divorced. She is 62 years old. Like me, she never worked. Her ex husband, like my husband, is 62, and he’s still working. He also plans to keep working until age 66 before he applies for Social Security. But my friend says she has already applied for divorced wife’s benefits, and her checks will start soon! How can this possibly be fair?

A. It’s totally fair. And I’ll explain why. It all has to do with the issue of dependency — the core entitlement issue for any kind of Social Security spousal benefit.

You and your husband are still married. Because you don’t work outside the home, you are financially dependent on your husband. That’s what makes you potentially eligible for a dependent wife’s benefit on his record. But because he is still working, the law assumes he is still supporting you financially. There is no reason to pay you a dependent spouse’s Social Security benefit while your husband is still working. To put it more bluntly: why should the taxpayers support you when your husband is still supporting you?

Someday he will retire, and Social Security will start paying him a retirement benefit that’s intended to partially replace the income he’s lost because he stopped working. And at that time, Social Security will start paying you a wife’s benefit that’s intended to partially replace that portion of his income he was using to support you.

But your friend’s case is different. The law cannot assume that her ex husband is supporting her. So the rules cut divorced women a bit of a break. She is able to get a dependent wife’s benefit on her husband’s record even if he isn’t yet getting Social Security retirement benefits himself. He simply has to be old enough to qualify for benefits.

You said your friend’s ex is 62. That makes him old enough for Social Security. And your friend is also 62, meaning she is also old enough to qualify for divorced wife’s benefits.

Q. You recently wrote a column where you mentioned a divorced woman getting benefits from her husband’s account. And he was still living. I think you are wrong. A divorced woman cannot get benefits from her ex husband’s record until he dies.

A. No, I’m not wrong. A divorced woman can get benefits on her ex husband’s Social Security record while he is still living.

Any woman age 62 or older can get a dependent wife’s benefits on her husband’s Social Security retirement account IF she isn’t due higher benefits on her own Social Security record. And as explained in the answer to the prior question, a divorced woman may be able to get spousal benefits even if her ex isn’t getting Social Security himself yet.

Q. How come my wife isn’t getting half of my Social Security? My monthly check is $1,850. She’s only getting $700 per month. Shouldn’t she be getting $925?

A. If this isn’t the most common question I’m asked, it’s certainly in the top five! A wife is entitled to half of her husband’s Social Security check IF she waited until age 66 to claim such benefits. But most women start getting dependent wife’s benefits before age 66. And those benefits are reduced roughly one half of one percent for each month they are taken before 66. I’m guessing your wife started getting benefits between age 62 and 63, meaning she’s due less than 40 percent of your rate.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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