Social Security Rule Changes: A New Challenge for Women



Woke up, fell out of bed.

Dragged the comb across my head.

Found my way downstairs and drank a cup.

And looking up…


Well, actually, I found my way downstairs, looked to the floor, and almost cried. There was our new dog, Lucky, wagging her tail to bid me good morning, a sure sign of wrongdoing.  Glancing around the kitchen in disbelief, I noticed that Lucky had vomited all over the place.  I mean all over the place. I had never seen anything like it.  On top of this, my sick pup also decided to consume one of our finely upholstered chairs.

What a good girl. I hope the upholstery settled her stomach.

There was no way I was going to tackle this major league disaster without coffee, so I meandered through the mess, fixed a cup, and headed to the den to brace myself for the task of cleaning. I figured it would take around thirty minutes to mop up, and then I would head out to play golf with my buddies.

While I was enjoying my morning brew, several horrible moans began emanating from the kitchen.

Marea, my wife, was up.

What I didn’t realize however, was that those groans had meant she already begun cleaning.

I headed into the kitchen.  “Marea, let me help. I just wanted a cup of coffee first.”

She glared at me. “Get me a few more rolls of paper towels and plastic grocery bags.”

I felt pretty bad, thought it best not to argue, and did as I was told.

After quietly playing the role of assistant cleaner, I slipped out of the room to get ready for golf.

In a few minutes I was ready to go, except for one problem: I couldn’t find my golf shoes.

Hmmmm, Marea will know where they are, I thought.  I’m sure I’ll catch an earful, but I need my shoes…. 

 Marriage requires a lot of careful decision-making.

She looked at me and said, “Are you talking about the golf shoes on the shelf in the garage?”

“Yes, exactly.”

She smiled and said, “I donated them to Goodwill.”

“I only wore them five times!”

“Then call Goodwill and get them back!”

Would anyone ever actually have the guts to call Goodwill and ask for a donation back?  I didn’t think so.

At that point, I figured I was in enough hot water already. She’d cleaned up most of the mega-mess, but I had another old pair of shoes to wear, so I let it go and went to the club.


All kidding aside, I guess men end up ahead of the game most of the time. In 2014, women working full time earned roughly 21% less than men1 and women tend to live longer than men. For married couples, this often means that wives will eventually have to become their spouses’ caretakers, which can entail medical services and/or end-of-life care. These expenses can deplete family savings just to pay for medical services and/or end-of-life care.

Adding to this issue, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 20152, which includes some significant changes to Social Security claiming options, will make it even more difficult for women to make ends meet, especially if they have not reached full retirement age (FRA).


In 2013, the Social Security Administration conducted a study that revealed Social Security benefits comprised half of all income for unmarried women. A recent report from the Nationwide Retirement Institute found that over 80% of retired women had filed for their benefits early, locking them into lower payments for life. Almost 25% of these women said that if given the chance, they would have waited to receive a larger benefit. Basically, Social Security is crucial to retirement planning, but most women who collect benefits end up filing early, forcing them into reduced benefits for life.

Before the recent changes to Social Security3, individuals could collect their spousal benefit while growing their own benefit by 8% a year until age 70. While this allowed individuals to maximize their Social Security income, it’s now only available to those who have reached full retirement age and are willing to file for benefits in the next several months. After that time, this income growth option will no longer be offered to future retirees.

Also, before the new legislation, formerly married spouses were able to receive a benefit equal to 50% of their ex-spouse’s benefit, regardless of whether their ex-spouse had already claimed. Unfortunately, the new legislation requires an ex-spouse to have filed for Social Security in order for the divorced spouse to be eligible for this benefit. This change has the potential to create a number of problems for formerly married women who will not have the option to claim until their ex-husband files.

Finally, since the new budget act basically eliminates the two key strategies that helped retired couples increase Social Security income, women will again feel the pinch in the form of survivor benefits. At a time when the surviving spouse must continue to pay for basic household needs and health care costs, potential income could be reduced, which may lead to a much lower quality of life for many aging women.


So what can be done?

While these changes paint a bit of a bleak picture for widows, there is the potential for some solace for them in survivor benefits. These benefits can be used to defray the cost of long-term care (LTC), but vary in amount depending on the claiming age of the deceased spouse. However, this is not a cure-all by any means, and places even more importance on when a person begins claiming their Social Security benefits. However, it’s a step in the right direction.

Regardless of gender, it is important for everyone to uncover the amount of Social Security benefits he/she is eligible to receive. Therefore, I strongly suggest meeting with a knowledgeable financial advisor who can optimize Social Security income (based on the current regulations), combine this benefit with pensions, investments, and other savings, and create a comprehensive plan specifically designed to address all of your retirement needs.


To close out my story, when I arrived home, Marea handed me a brand new pair of “stylish” golf shoes.

My guilt intensified.  I should have cleaned up the mess before attempting to enjoy my morning brew.

Like most men, I guess I came out ahead again.

Lucky me.