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Ask the Expert: Social Security options for a divorced retiree

I'm 64 and retired, but plan to delay Social Security until 66½, my full retirement age (FRA). I'm divorced, and my marriage lasted for over 10 years. A friend says she thinks I could collect my ex-husband's Social Security at 65 and switch to my own at 66½. Is that accurate? Her ex-husband is deceased; she was told she could collect Social Security on his record and postpone taking hers.

That's not an option for you, because your ex is alive. But depending on your birth date, you may qualify for another option.

Your friend's strategy is available only to widows, widowers and eligible divorced people whose ex is deceased. They can apply for a survivor benefit based on their late spouse or ex-spouse's record and later switch to their own benefit — or vice versa. (The best financial choice is to postpone the bigger of the two benefits.)

But if you were born before Jan. 2, 1954, you qualify for a different option. When you reach your FRA, if your ex is at least 62 years old you can file a "restricted application" for a Social Security benefit based on his work record, postponing the application for your own benefit. (People who were born later can't file a "restricted application." They must apply simultaneously for all the benefits they're eligible to receive.)

If eligible for a "restricted application," at FRA you would qualify to collect 50% of the benefit your ex is entitled to receive at his own FRA (even if he hasn't yet reached that FRA). You could switch later to your own. While it's postponed, your own benefit will earn extra credits on a monthly basis between your FRA and your 70th birthday.

The bottom line

Divorced people sometimes qualify for Social Security based on their former spouse's work record.

More information

ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/delayret.html

ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/ifyou.html

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to act2@newsday.com. 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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