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Ask the Expert: Multiple Social Security options for widows, former spouses

I'm 61 years old and still working. I was married to my first husband for 22 years. He died when I was 43. At 49, I married my second husband. He now collects Social Security. Our marriage lasted 11 years. We're now divorced, and I'm single. What Social Security benefits am I entitled to receive? Could I take an early spousal benefit based on husband No. 2's record, and then at age 66 and 2 months, switch to my widow's benefit from husband No. 1?

No. You have several options, but that's not among them.

You could apply now for a widow's benefit, and later switch to your own benefit.

Or you could apply at age 62 for your own benefit. That application would automatically include application for a spousal benefit based on your ex's record, and you'd receive the larger amount. You could later switch to your widow's benefit.

But with every option, you'll collect more if you delay your application.

Social Security benefits taken before your full retirement age (FRA) are permanently reduced. For example, your maximum widow's benefit is 100 percent of what your first husband qualified to receive; but at age 61, you'd receive only about 78 percent of his benefit. Your maximum spousal benefit is 50 percent of your living ex-spouse's benefit; but at 62, you'd only be eligible for about 33 percent.

What's more, any Social Security benefit you collect while you work may be further reduced until you reach FRA, depending on what you earn. It sounds as if you were born in 1958. If so, your FRA to collect a widow's benefit is 66 and 4 months. Your FRA to collect your own benefit is 66 and 8 months.

The bottom line

Make an appointment at a Social Security office to review all your options.

More information

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747, or email Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.


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