5 Steps to Claim Your Ex’s Social Security After Divorce

Love and marriage don’t always last forever. But if your matrimony lasted 10 years or more, the financial benefits can last a lifetime. That’s because you may be able to take Social Security based on your ex-spouse’s benefits instead of your own, even if you divorced decades ago.

The philosophy is that both spouses often contribute economically during the marriage, even if only one person was employed. The Social Security rules protect those who spent most of their working years raising a family or playing a supportive role to their spouse and may have no retirement savings of their own.

The Rules for Social Security After Divorce

The maximum benefit you can get based on the record of a spouse — whether you’re currently married or divorced — is 50% of their full retirement age benefit. Full retirement age is the age at which you qualify for 100% of your benefit. It’s 66 or 67, depending on when you were born.

If your ex-spouse dies before you, you’ll typically be eligible to receive survivors benefits of 100% of the monthly payment they were receiving, just as you could if your current spouse died.

People with a long employment record will typically qualify for a bigger benefit based on their own earnings instead of a spouse’s. Social Security will give you the bigger benefit, but not both.

If you do qualify for more money thanks to your ex-spouse, they’ll technically give you whatever benefit you earned based on your record. Then, they’ll use your ex’s record to make up the difference.

Seeking to get revenge on an ex-spouse by claiming their Social Security? Move on. Your decision won’t affect their benefits in any way, nor will it impact their current spouse if they’ve remarried. If they’ve been married multiple times, all their exes are allowed to claim on their record.

Occasionally, a divorce settlement will state that one spouse can’t collect Social Security based on the other person’s record. Such stipulations are utter nonsense. The Social Security Administration says they’re “worthless and never enforced.”

How to Get Your Ex’s Social Security in 5 Easy Steps

Since your Social Security checks won’t affect your ex in any way, the only reason to try to claim their benefits is if you think you can get more money. If you suspect their record will maximize your Social Security, follow these five steps.

1. Make Sure You Can Answer ‘Yes’ to These Questions

To qualify for an ex’s Social Security benefits, you need to be able to answer “yes” to these four questions.

  • Were you married for 10 years or more? If your marriage lasted less than 10 years, you won’t qualify for an ex’s benefits. Common-law marriages don’t count. You also need to have been divorced at least two years before you can start getting checks based on your former spouse’s history, unless they’ve already started receiving benefits.
  • Are you at least 62? This is the minimum age for starting Social Security retirement benefits, no matter whose record you’re using. However, you can qualify regardless of your age if you’re caring for your ex’s child who is under 16 or disabled. If your ex-spouse is deceased, you can qualify for survivors benefits at age 60, or age 50 if you’re disabled.
  • Are you still unmarried? If you’re currently married, you can only claim on your record or your current spouse’s record. You’ll only be eligible 50% of their full benefit as well. And if you’ve been married and divorced multiple times? Social Security will use whichever ex-spouse’s record gives you the biggest benefit. Remember, though: Only marriages that lasted 10 years or more will count.
  • Is your ex eligible for benefits? In addition to the minimum age of 62, Social Security requires at least 40 work credits, which amounts to 10 years of full-time work, to start benefits. If your ex doesn’t meet these criteria, there’s no benefit for you to claim. Note that they don’t need to be receiving benefits. They just need to be eligible.

2. Gather Your Ex’s Information

You’re going to need some information to prove to Social Security that you’re eligible for your ex’s benefits. Be prepared to provide your marriage license and your divorce decree.

Social Security will also need to locate their record. This will be easiest if you still have their Social Security number. If you no longer have it, Social Security may be able to find their record if you can provide their date of birth, where they were born and the names of their parents.

3. Resist the Urge to Tell Them

Remember: Your decision to seek more Social Security on your ex’s record does not affect them in any way. So there’s absolutely no reason to contact them about it. You don’t need their consent to get benefits based on their record. Social Security will not contact them about your application.

4. Ask Social Security Whose Record Gets You the Best Benefit

Now take that information you gathered about your ex to Social Security so you can figure out whose record will give you the biggest benefit. You can call them at 800-772-1213 or visit your local office. An appointment isn’t required, but scheduling one can cut down on your waiting time.

5. Delay as Long as Possible (but Not Too Long)

The earlier you take benefits, the lower your monthly checks will be, no matter whose record you claim on. The 50% you can qualify for from their history is the maximum you’ll get if you wait until your full retirement age of 66 or 67. For every year you claim before then, you’ll permanently reduce your benefits by 6.66%. If you claim at 62, you’d only qualify for 32.5% of their benefit.

Don’t wait too long, though. When you take benefits on your own record, you get an extra 8% for every year you delay past your full retirement age until your benefits max out at 70. But when you’re getting spousal benefits, you don’t earn delayed retirement credits. You won’t get extra money for waiting past your full retirement age, so there’s no point in delaying any further.

A final note: In the past, a common Social Security strategy was to claim based on a current or former spouse’s record as early as possible, then switch over to your own bigger benefit later on. But the rules changed under a 2015 law called the Bipartisan Budget Act. Now this is only an option if you were born Jan. 2, 1954, or earlier.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Dear Penny: I’ll Never Marry My Boyfriend, So Can I Hide My Debt?

Dear Penny,

My boyfriend and I are 71 and 72. He’s been divorced three times, and I’ve been widowed twice. We both have our own homes and good incomes. 

The problem is, I’m in debt due to my last husband. My boyfriend always talks about how he is debt-free except for his mortgage. We are in love and committed to each other. 

Do I have to tell him about my debt when we have said we don’t want to remarry? I am embarrassed about the debt.

-L.

Dear L.,

You aren’t obligated to disclose every single aspect of your life and finances to your boyfriend. Of course you’d need to tell him you have debt if you were talking about marrying or moving in together. That’s not the case here.

As long as your debt isn’t impacting him, you shouldn’t feel guilty for not telling him. But I wonder if you’d feel better if you told him.

I’m going to paraphrase Dan Savage, the legendary love and sex advice columnist, and give you the advice he often repeats when someone is scared to reveal something about themselves to a partner: If you tell your boyfriend about your debt, you’ll be revealing one thing about yourself. His reaction will reveal everything about him.

What I’m hoping is that you’re underestimating your boyfriend. You say he “always” talks about being debt-free aside from his mortgage. It may be that he’s simply more open to discussing money than you, so it feels like he’s constantly talking about his lack of debt.

Context matters a lot here, too. Is he bringing it up because he’s proud of the accomplishment? Or because he’s excited about all the things he can do because his expenses are low? That’s a lot different than if he’s the type of person who thinks that just because he’s debt-free, anyone else who has debt is irresponsible.

Your boyfriend’s reaction isn’t the only thing to consider when you make this decision. Be honest with yourself: By keeping this secret, are you spending more money because you’re trying to pretend like you don’t have any obligations? When you’re not upfront about your financial situation, you often wind up with a lifestyle you can’t afford. You say yes to the vacations and restaurants that are out of your budget because you don’t want anyone to suspect that you’re struggling.

I have no idea if this is happening here. You don’t say how much debt you have or whether it’s manageable. But if this debt eats up a significant part of your income and you’re a couple who tends to split things relatively equally when you go out on dates or travel together, it’s something you need to seriously consider.

One benefit of telling your boyfriend is that opening up can be a relief. Keeping a bad situation secret only compounds the stress. When you look at something through the lens of shame, it often becomes so much worse than it actually is in your mind.

If you haven’t told anyone about this lingering debt, consider telling a trusted friend or family member first. Doing so could help you gauge your boyfriend’s reaction. You may also discover that talking about this isn’t as scary as you’ve imagined.

Regardless of how you proceed with your boyfriend, I hope you recognize that not talking about this debt isn’t going to make it disappear. You need a plan for how to conquer this debt, whether that involves paying it off as quickly as possible or keeping the monthly payments as manageable as possible. If you haven’t done so, consider making an appointment with a financial planner or counselor to make sure your plan is solid. You may feel better about telling your boyfriend you have debt if you can also talk with confidence about how you’re handling it.

Not to add to your pressure, but the longer you keep this a secret, the harder it will be should you eventually open up. Even the most sympathetic partner may be hurt to learn that you’ve been keeping debt a secret for years because you were afraid of their reaction. Conversely if he doesn’t react well, your pain will be exacerbated after investing many years together.

I won’t try to pretend that learning your debt is a deal-breaker for him wouldn’t be incredibly painful. I certainly understand why the easiest thing to do is not to talk about this when you’re happy and in love. Still, I think it’s important to know whether he cares more about you or your net worth.

Whatever you choose, I hope you can stop feeling embarrassed about your debt. It’s not a character flaw. Life can throw a lot of unexpected hurdles at you. Sometimes your battle wounds come in the form of debt. Hopefully after seven decades in the world, your boyfriend is wise enough to recognize that.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

2021 Tax Brackets Are Here: Here’s What You’ll Owe Next Year

The year 2021 is looking a lot like 2020, at least in terms of taxes.

The IRS released its inflation adjustments for 2021 federal income tax rates and brackets. While these changes are unlikely to have a huge impact on your bottom line, there are a few things you should be aware of.

Because these are the 2021 tax rates, they’ll determine your tax bill that will be due in 2022. You’ll use 2020 rates and brackets when you file your taxes on or before May 17, 2021. That’s 32 days later than usual due to the tax deadline extension.

How the 2021 Tax Brackets Break Down

There are seven tax brackets that range from 10% to 37%. The 2020 and 2021 tax brackets break down as follows:

Unmarried Individuals

Tax Bracket Taxable Income for 2020 (use when you file in 2021) Taxable income for 2021 (use when you file in 2022)
10% Up to $9,875 Up to $9,950
12% $9,875 to $40,125n $9,950 to $40,525
22% $40,125 to $85,525 $40,525 to $86,375
24% $85,525 to $163,300 $86,375 to $164,925
32% $163,300 to $207,350 $164,925 to $209,425
35% $207,350 to $518,400 $209,425 to $523,600
37% Over $518,400 Over $523,600

Married Individuals Filing Jointly or Surviving Spouses

Tax Bracket Taxable income for 2020 (use when you file in 2021) Taxable income for 2021 (use when you file in 2022)
10% Up to $19,750 Up to $19,900
12% $19,750 to $80,250n $19,900 to $81,050
22% $80,250 to $171,050 $81,050 to $172,750
24% $171,050 to $326,600 $172,750 to $329,850
32% $326,600 to $414,700n $329,850 to $418,850
35% $414,700 to $622,050n $418,850 to $628,300
37% Over $622,050 Over $628,300

Heads of Household

Tax Bracket Taxable income for 2020 (use when you file in 2021) Taxable income for 2021 (use when you file in 2022)
10% Up to $14,100 Up to $14,200
12% $14,100 to $53,700n $14,200 to $54,200
22% $53,700 to $85,500 $54,200 to $86,350
24% $85,500 to $163,300 $86,350 to $164,900
32% $163,300 to $207,350 $164,900 to $209,400
35% $207,350 to $518,400 $209,400 to $523,600
37% Over $518,400 Over $523,600
Pro Tip

Not sure of your filing status? This interactive IRS quiz can help you determine the correct status. If you qualify for more than one, it tells you which one will result in the lowest tax bill.

Tax rates apply to the income within each bracket. So if you’re an unmarried individual with taxable income of $50,000, you won’t pay 22% of that $50,000 to Uncle Sam.

According to the 2021 tax brackets (the ones you’ll use for next year’s return), you’d pay:

  • 10% on the first $9,950
  • 12% on the next $30,575 ($40,525 – $9,950 = $30,575)
  • 22% on the next $9,475 ($50,000 – $40,525 = $9,475)

2 Tax Changes That Could Affect You in 2021

The modified tax brackets aren’t the only changes for 2021. About 60 tax provisions were adjusted in the new year. A few highlights:

  • The standard deduction will rise slightly: For 2020, the standard deduction is $12,400 for single filers and people who are married filing separately. In 2021, it will rise by $150 to $12,550 for single taxpayers. For those who are married filing jointly, the standard deduction will rise by $300, from $24,800 in 2020 to $25,100 in 2021.
  • Some limited-income families can get an extra $68. The maximum Earned Income Tax Credit will increase in 2021 to $6,728, from $6,660 in 2020. You need at least three children to qualify for the maximum amount.

3 Tax Rules That Aren’t Changing in 2021

  • IRA contribution limits won’t change. The traditional IRA and Roth IRA contribution limits will remain at $6,000 for people under 50. The extra $1,000 “catch-up” contribution the IRS allows people 50 and older to make won’t change either. You can still fund your IRA for 2020 until tax day, which is May 17, 2021.
  • 401(k) contribution limits aren’t changing either: If you have an employer-sponsored tax-deferred retirement plan, like a 401(k) or 403(b), your maximum contribution is still $19,500 in 2021. The additional “catch-up” contribution workers ages 50 and older can make will also remain at $6,500.
  • There’s no limit on itemized deductions. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 suspended these limits.

Ready to Start Your 2021 Tax Prep?

If you’re ready to dive into your taxes, you can check out this comprehensive summary of 2021 tax changes courtesy of the IRS.

Even if you’re not ready to jump into 2021 tax planning mode just yet, keep in mind it’s a good time to check your tax withholdings and make adjustments if necessary. Just make sure you file your return or ask for an extension by the May 17 deadline. If you can’t afford your tax bill for 2020, it’s essential that you file a tax return anyway and ask for an IRS payment plan.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

You Could Get a Tax Refund for Unemployment Benefits in May

If you’re among the 40 million Americans who received unemployment compensation in 2020 and you’ve already filed your taxes, you could be getting a surprise refund.

The IRS announced that it would start issuing refunds in May to taxpayers who have submitted returns but qualify for a tax break on 2020 jobless benefits. Refunds will continue into the summer months.

Typically, unemployment benefits are taxed as ordinary income. But the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11 shields the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits for households with incomes under $150,000. If you’re married, each spouse can exclude the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits.

The new law, passed in the middle of tax season, left people who qualified for the tax break wondering if they’d need to file an amended return. But the IRS says that won’t be necessary. The IRS will automatically reconfigure the correct amount of unemployment compensation and taxes due, then either issue any extra money as a refund or apply it to taxes owed.

It’s not clear whether you’ll need to file an amended return if the tax break makes you eligible for certain tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit.

You Still May Not Get a Break on State Taxes

Your state may not be feeling quite as generous as Uncle Sam. According to H&R Block, the following 13 states have yet to pass changes to exempt some unemployment from state taxes:

  • Colorado
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • West Virginia

H&R block has suggested holding off on filing if you live in one of these 13 states and received unemployment benefits in 2020 in case your state changes its law.

What if I Haven’t Filed Yet?

If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, you can go ahead and use free tax filing software to submit your return. They’ll ask you a few questions to determine whether you qualify for the unemployment tax break.

The IRS has instructions on its website for those filing a paper return. But we’d strongly recommend filing online. The IRS has a huge backlog of unprocessed paper returns from 2019. Filing by paper could add months to the time it takes to process your return.

If you can’t afford your tax bill, even after the unemployment tax break, it’s still essential that you file your taxes or file for an extension by May 17. Note that filing for an extension only buys you time to file, but any money you owe is still technically due on May 17 — a month later than usual due to the tax deadline extension. You’ll minimize your penalties by filing an on-time return, even if you can’t pay anything.

Once you are able to resume payments, you can typically automatically get approved for an online payment plan within minutes. You can spread the bill out over up to 72 months in some cases if you sign up for an IRS installment plan.

One thing to keep in mind is that the tax break on unemployment is for 2020 only. If you’re still receiving benefits, consider having 10% automatically withheld by filing IRS Form W-4V if doing so wouldn’t put you behind on bills.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Got Vaccinated? You Get a Free Krispy Kreme Donut Every Day

If you’ve had at least one of your two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or you’ve gotten the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, bring your vaccination card to a Krispy Kreme to prove you’ve been jabbed. You just need to flash your card. Staff won’t photograph the card or record any personal information.
Robin Hartill is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder and the voice behind the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. She’s getting her vaccine (and her free donut) as soon as eligibility opens up to under-40s in Florida on April 5.

How Do I Get My Free Krispy Kreme Donut?

Ready to stop worrying about money?
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If you show proof of vaccination, Krispy Kreme will give you a free Original Glazed donut. No purchase is required. But why stop at one? Your COVID-19 vaccination card can get you a free donut every day through Dec. 31 at participating locations.

What if I’m Not Getting Vaccinated?

What if you and all your newly vaccinated friends are craving a donut? No problem. Load ‘em up in the car and head to the drive-thru. Everyone gets a free donut, so long as each person in the car has a vaccination card. Visit Krispy Kreme’s website to find a participating location near you.
You can redeem the offer in-store or at the drive-thru. However, the freebie is not available if you’re ordering online or getting delivery.
If you haven’t gotten your vaccine for any reason, you can still swing by your local Krispy Kreme on Mondays through May 24. They’ll give you a free Original Glazed donut, plus a medium brewed hot coffee. <!–

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A lot of people want to get the vaccine but are still waiting for their dose. But if you’re choosing not to be vaccinated? We’ll echo what Krispy Kreme says on its website: Vaccination decisions should be made only after consulting with a health care provider.

Dear Penny: We Want to Travel Post-COVID, but He’s Too Poor

Dear Penny,
He knows that I will never marry again and whatever money I have left will go to my children. When he is down here, he stays with me (he’s been with me six months, now). He buys half the groceries and many times pays for restaurants, so his monthly expenses may add up to 0. He does help around the house.  
Now that we have our vaccines, I went to visit my family, who live in another country. He decided not to join me, but he didn’t want to return home, either. 
I’m 70 and a widow of six years. I was married for almost 43 years. Two years ago, I met a man from New England on a dating site who’s just a bit older than me. We’re both healthy and physically active. We love to dance, hike and visit new places.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].
Whatever you do, don’t pursue a future with this man if you think you’re going to change him. It sounds like money just isn’t that important to him. That’s not a character flaw.
Dear Am I Too Old,
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What I want you to do is think about the next trip you want to take post-COVID. Would you have more fun if you took it alone, with the comfort of knowing you didn’t foot the bill for him? Or would you enjoy it more traveling together, even if that means you’ll pay for most of it?
I feel like you’re assigning a level of urgency here that doesn’t really exist. He’s already been staying with you for six months in Florida. He’s not talking about selling his home in New England. No one’s begging for the other person’s hand in marriage. You can plan a vacation, knowing you’ll pay for most of it, without committing your entire retirement to traveling together.
Privacy Policy
You don’t always fall in love with someone in the same tax bracket. That means one person often shoulders a greater share of the expenses. But if this relationship truly makes you happy, that’s a small price to pay.

He’s been married twice and has four children. He is very close to his kids, grandkids and siblings. I have met them and they are good, decent people. He has lots of friends and is very outgoing.
Your boyfriend sounds like someone who manages what little money he does have wisely.
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He’s self-employed with a business next to his home. He works when he feels like it. He would like to live and work in New England for four months and spend the rest of the time in Florida, where I live.
Is this relationship doomed because of our differences in attitude on finances? Should we just enjoy what we have?
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
I don’t think your relationship is doomed — and age is a very big factor here. My answer would be very different here if you were in your 20s or 30s. If you were building a home, a nest egg and a family together, your differences on money could be too difficult to reconcile, no matter how in love you were. But in your 70s, it’s a lot more realistic that you can keep your finances separate.
Ready to stop worrying about money?
I pointed out that this is his busy time for business and he should take advantage. But he says he has worked hard and it’s his time now to enjoy life.
He doesn’t have much money. His Social Security is minimal. He saves it and lives off of the money he makes from his business and the settlement his ex-wife sends him, which will end in two years. His house is paid off, his expenses are low, and he is careful with his money.
You found a guy who isn’t rich, but does he make your life richer? Your letter screams “yes” to me.

You share the same hobbies. You like his family and friends. It seems like he’s an equal partner with you, even though he can’t pay 50% of the bills.

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My husband left me financially secure. We were always careful with money and never lived an extravagant lifestyle. I’ve got two adult children who are financially independent.