Personal Finance

Unfortunately, receiving the wrong advice on Social Security claiming strategies is common, according to Joe Elsasser, president of Covisum, a provider of Social Security Timing software.

That goes particularly for divorced widows, according to Elsasser, who may not know that their ex-spouse has died or that they are eligible to claim benefits on their ex’s work record.

“We see that sort of situation a lot, where a divorced spouse doesn’t have any idea what is available or what could be available based on their ex’s record,” Elsasser said.

Getting answers to those questions may depend on how you word them.

“If I call Social Security and ask about my ex’s benefit record, they’re not allowed to tell me much,” Elsasser said.

But if those questions are worded as to what happens to your benefits if you claim on your ex’s record, the agency will be more forthcoming, he said.

Former spouses must meet certain requirements in order to claim on an ex’s record. That includes being at least 62 years old, having been married at least 10 years and being currently unmarried.

All prospective beneficiaries should pay close attention to changing Social Security rules. That is because Congress eliminated certain claiming strategies as of 2016. Based on your birth date and year, you may be grandfathered in to those old rules.

“If you’re between 64 and 66 right now, you need to explore whether or not you have access to a restricted application,” Elsasser said. “That’s a big thing for that age group.”

A restricted application would allow you to claim a spousal benefit if you are married or divorced, while allowing your own retirement benefits to grow until you reach age 70. But this only applies if you were born on or before Jan. 1, 1954.

If you are eligible for a restricted claim, but file for your own benefit instead, you forfeit your right to that strategy.

“That’s where a lot of people leave money on the table,” Elsasser said.

If you file for benefits, you have up to 12 months to change your mind.

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