Our Dynamic Social Security System

LouAnn Schulfer, AWMA®, AIF® Accredited Wealth Management Advisor® Accredited Investment Fiduciary |

I posted a question on social media recently, “ATTENTION LADIES: I am seeking your input! What financial topics do you feel are important to women? Why? Thank you!”


As I read the responses (represented in bold below) and thought of the advice I’d give, which would differ by individual circumstances, there was a common piece that would be important:  The Social Security system of the United States of America.  Here are a few, and for the context of a short article, how social security plays in.


Single ladies.  What do you need to do to retire?  What to expect when you are retired?  Many women were in positions while raising kids that didn’t offer retirement plans/401k’s for a long time.  If you are divorced, you can receive social security retirement benefits based upon either your own work record OR your ex-spouse’s record.  Your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, you must not be re-married (if you are you can claim benefits on that spouse) and you become eligible at 62.


Financial planning in the event your spouse passes before you, especially at an early age.  The financial devastation of this possibility cannot be underestimated and is often best solved with life insurance and a compartmentalized plan as to how much money is needed for specific purposes such as replacing income, paying off debts or planning for future expenses like college.  Social security can also play a part, although not nearly as powerful as you, yourself can prepare for with your own risk management plan.  Social security has a “survivors’ benefit” which is based on the amount of earnings (that were taxed by social security and therefore paid into the system) of the person who passed away.  Widow or widower’s benefits may be received at full retirement age (differs for each person depending on your year of birth), that are 100% of the deceased workers benefit amount.  That means that, although the person paying into social security may have died, their surviving spouse may still get to collect on their benefit for their entire retired life.  Reduced benefits may be available as early as age 60.  Disability benefits are available as early as age 50.  Benefits are available to a surviving spouse at any age caring for a child under age 16, or for children under age 18 (19 if in elementary or secondary school) who has a disability, and even for dependent parents of the deceased worker age 62 or older.


Retirement, all aspects.  What to do when the market tanks, timeframes for retirement how to retire early and working part time in retirement.    As for social security, your monthly income check is not at all tied to financial markets.  In fact, you’ll receive Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) based upon inflation.  Working part time can be an excellent idea for many reasons.  If you’ve chosen to receive your social security retirement benefits before your FRA or Full Retirement Age (based on your year of birth) you may have earned income up to a certain level before your monthly social security check would be reduced.  In 2023, that amount is $21,240 (up from $19,560 in 2022).  In your year of FRA, it increases even more, and after full retirement age, you may earn as much income as you would like without any reduction.


How do women who may have left the workforce to take care of children and then want to re-enter the workforce catch up on the years they might have missed putting into retirement?  In a lot of cases, women are the younger spouse, how does that play in?    Individualized planning is key as each case will differ.  As for social security, when you are old enough to begin collecting benefits, you are essentially allowed to collect either your own benefit based upon your own work record, OR an amount equal to ½ of your spouse’s benefit (even with your spouse collecting their own full benefit), whichever is higher.  Our Social Security system compensates spouses who left the workforce for any reason and did not themselves pay in as much as their working spouse.


I was a stay-at-home Mom.  Now I’m ready to retire and have nothing.    Similar to the responses above, if you are married, you may collect social security based on your spouses’ benefit in addition to him or her collecting his or her full benefit.  If you are divorced or widowed, you may also collect on your former spouses’ benefit.  If your spouse is working, you may contribute to an IRA or a Roth IRA based upon your spouse’s income, even if you are not working.


Visit ssa.gov to learn more about our dynamic Social Security system.






LouAnn Schulfer is co-owner of Schulfer & Associates, LLC Wealth Management and can be reached at (715) 343-9600 or louann.schulfer@lpl.com.  Visit www.SchulferAndAssociates.com | blog.


Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor.  Member FINRA/SIPC. 


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.