Singles Miss Out on Money Because of This


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Unmarried individuals living alone, both women and men, are more likely to be reliant on Social Security to keep them out of poverty than those who live with families, according to new research.

"As our population ages, strengthening Social Security benefits needs to be a top priority to ensure that more seniors do not end up living in poverty at the time when they need financial security the most," said Jeff Hayes, study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR).

The IWPR study found that 12 million whites compared to 2.2 million Americans of color rely on Social Security to lift them out of poverty while 76% of women aged 75 and older rely on Social Security for more than half their income compared to only 60% of men.

"Being married can benefit retirement calculations when one person has lower earnings than their spouse," said Clare Green, spokesperson for the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB), a bipartisan board created by Congress and appointed by the President. "Married couples have their lifetime earnings calculated independently but if one person earned lower wages they may be eligible to receive additional benefits based on the earnings of the spouse with the higher earnings, thus increasing the total benefit amount."

The majority of older women are single while the majority of older men are married, which may be why men do not rely on Social Security as much as women even though Social Security benefits appear to compensate couples more.

"If you are married in retirement, you have more choices with social security benefits," said Michelle Ford, a financial advisor in Bridgewater, New Jersey. "Divorcees and widowers have the most interesting choices."

For example, when Ute Clark remarried more than ten years ago at 59 years old, she became ineligible to draw down her first husband's social security benefits of $1,500 in retirement income.

"My social security income was $400 a month," Clark said. "That's a huge difference in retirement income compared to my first husband's social security benefit from when he was a vice president for a major company and I was a stay at home mom."


Once the Oxford, Pennsylvania resident was informed of the Social Security law that limits survivor benefits when remarriage occurs before 60 years old, she took action.

"My current husband and I annulled the marriage and then married again a year later," Clark said.

The survivor benefit is one of many strategies within the Social Security system that incentivizes marriage in retirement.

"As long as you've been married 10 years before you are divorced or before your spouse dies then you are eligible to claim half of your ex-spouses benefits," said Ford.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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