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Divorcee is eligible for ex-husband's benefits

I am 64. I started getting my own Social Security retirement benefits at 62. I don't get much money because for many years I did not work outside the home. But my ex-husband just started getting his Social Security, and his check is almost four times as much as mine. He said I am not due any benefits on his record because I already get my own Social Security. Is this true? (We were married for more than 30 years and I never remarried.)

No, your ex-husband is wrong. You are not locked into your own benefits for life. Divorced individuals can be entitled to spousal benefits if the marriage lasted more than 10 years. If you are due more money as a divorced wife on your ex-husband's Social Security record, we can supplement your retirement check with the higher benefits based on his earnings record. Call toll-free 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment to file for divorced wife's benefits. Doing so will not affect the benefit your ex-husband receives from Social Security.

Applying for

widow's benefits

My sister is about to turn 60. She has never worked, and she is struggling to make ends meet. Can she file for widow's benefits then? Does she get a set amount?

A widow can begin receiving benefits as early as age 60. If benefit payments start then, she will get about 70 percent of her late husband's Social Security benefit entitlement. She should call toll-free 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment to file for widow's benefits.

Can noncitizen

receive SSI?

My mother emigrated to this country from Russia about two years ago. My husband and I have been supporting her. Can she get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?

As a general rule, you must be a U.S. citizen to qualify for the SSI program. There are some exceptions, however. She should contact Social Security at toll-free 1-800-772-1213 to find out if she is eligible.

Benefit adjustment

will come in 2005

I plan to retire in October. Even though this will be a "short" work year for me, I should make more money in 2004 than in any other year I have worked.

Will my Social Security retirement benefit amount include credit for the earnings I will make (and the Social Security taxes I will pay) from January through September 2004?

Yes, but not at first. We cannot adjust your benefit to credit you for yearly earnings until the year is over. So, sometime in 2005 you will get an automatic increase in benefits that takes into account your 2004 earnings. You should get it by mid 2005, and the increase will be retroactive until January 2005.

Why benefits will be reduced

I was born in 1940, and I know that my Social Security full retirement age is 65 years and six months. But does that mean I have to be 62 and six months to qualify for early retirement benefits? Also, I was told my benefits will be reduced more than for people born before 1938. Why?

The earliest age at which you can get Social Security retirement benefits is still 62, even for people who must be older than 65 to qualify for full retirement benefits. However, because benefits are permanently reduced based on the number of months you will receive checks before you reach your "full retirement age," you will have a greater reduction than retirees born in 1937 or earlier whose full retirement age is 65.

Widow's benefits based on age

My wife plans to apply for her own Social Security retirement benefits at 62. I expect to work until my full retirement age before I apply for Social Security, and my benefits will be higher than my wife's. If I die, will her widow's benefits be reduced because she took early retirement?

The amount of widow's benefits we can pay your wife will depend on how old she is when she begins receiving a widow's benefit. If she is over "full retirement age" when that happens, she will be due a widow's benefit equal to 100 percent of your Social Security rate, even though she took reduced Social Security retirement benefits based on her own earnings record.

This column was prepared by the Social Security Administration. For answers to specific Social Security questions, call Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.