5 Ways to Get Your Ex's Social Security Benefits

1040 form income tax
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/ Source: CNBC.com
By Sharon Epperson, CNBC and Katie Young, CNBC

You and your ex have gone your separate ways, but your Social Security benefits may still be very much tied together.

Even if you are divorced, you may be entitled to up to half of your ex-spouse's full Social Security benefit if it is higher than your own.

That's right — half! What difference could it make if you received half of your ex's benefit?

"It can make a huge impact," said financial advisor Stacy Francis, president and CEO of Francis Financial and also a certified divorce financial analyst.

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She offered this hypothetical example. Assume your ex-spouse's monthly retirement benefit would be $500 higher than your own. If you start taking Social Security at age 67 and live to age 90, you would be giving up $138,000 if you collected on your own benefit instead of your ex-spouse's, she said. That's based on the number of months you would get benefits over a 23-year period.

You can receive Social Security retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse's record (even if he or she has remarried), as long as these five statements are true:

  • You were married at least 10 years.
  • You are not currently married.
  • You are at least 62 years old.
  • The benefit that you're entitled to receive based on your own work is less than benefit that you would receive based on your ex-spouse's work.
  • And, your ex-spouse is eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.

If all of that is true, then you'll get the higher "divorced spouse benefit" that is equal to up to one-half of your ex's full retirement amount. If you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record, Social Security will pay that amount first. If the benefit on your ex-spouse's record is higher, you will get an additional amount so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.

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Even better, if a second marriage of yours lasted 10 years or longer, you can choose between your first spouse's benefit and your second spouse's benefit. Choose whichever is higher!

The bottom line is that you may be eligible for a larger monthly Social Security payment, which might just be what you need to help to ensure a more secure financial future.

Check out your options by going to www.ssa.gov or visiting your local Social Security office. Don't make the mistake of leaving that money on the table.