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Social Security Q&A

How Early to Apply for Social Security? How Does Divorced Wife Apply? SSA Q&A

Signing up can be done quickly from home but time needed for payments to begin; can divorced wife get benefits from ex’s SS and her own later?

Aug. 27, 2012 – Signing up for Social Security today is a snap compared to just a few years ago, when you had to go a Social Security office. It can be done from home today, but Oscar Garcia, Public Affairs Specialist with Social Security says seniors still need to apply early to be sure the benefits begin when they need them. Here are his answers to questions about applying and about applying as an ex-wife.


I am going to retire at the end of this year, and would like to start my Social Security benefits in January. When is the best time to apply?


Now is the time to prepare. We recommend you apply online. If you do, you can apply up to four months before you want your retirement benefits to begin. These days, you no longer need to travel to an office or wait in line to apply for benefits. You can do it from your home or office computer.


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The Social Security website at makes the process easy and convenient. You can complete your application for retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes.

In most cases, after you submit your online application electronically, that is all you have to do.  There are no forms to sign or additional paperwork to complete. In rare cases where we need additional information, a representative will contact you.

Use Retirement Planner

Not ready to retire yet? Perhaps you want to plan ahead and begin considering your options regarding when to retire. In that case, you will want to visit Social Security’s website to use our convenient and informative retirement planner at Here you can find out just how close you are to meeting your financial goals and then “bookmark” the website to apply for retirement benefits whenever you are ready.

We encourage people at any stage in their working career to use the Retirement Estimator for an instant, personalized estimate of future retirement benefits. Find it at Remember that you are always first in line when you go online, to

If you are planning to retire and begin receiving Social Security benefits in January, start the year off right by applying online now for Social Security benefits.


I am divorced from my ex-husband, and I did not remarry. We were married for twenty-one years. I will reach my full retirement age of 66 this year. Can I apply for Social Security benefits as a divorced wife and wait until later to receive my own Social Security retirement?


Yes, you can. This is possible if you wait to receive benefits until you reach full retirement age, which is age 66 for you. If you apply before full retirement age, then you have to receive the higher of the two benefits at that time.  

By waiting until you are 66, you have the option of choosing between the divorced spouse's benefit and your own retirement benefit. The maximum benefit you can receive as a divorced spouse is 50% of your ex-spouse’s full benefit amount. However, you must be at least full retirement age to receive the 50% rate. If you are not full retirement age, then this option does not apply.

Otherwise, by waiting until full retirement age, you can choose to receive only the divorced spouse's benefits and delay receiving retirement benefits until a later date. If retirement benefits are delayed, a higher benefit may be received at a later date based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.

The delayed retirement credits accrue at the rate of 2/3 of 1percent for each month that you delay your retirement benefit. You can earn these delayed retirement credits from the month you are full retirement age up to age 70. 

If you are divorced, you can receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record - even if they have remarried.  You must meet the following requirements. Your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you are unmarried, and both you and your ex-spouse must be at least age 62.

You can learn more about retirement benefits, spouse’s benefits, and divorced spouse’s benefits at

Note: Oscar Garcia is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Social Security Administration. You can direct your questions to him at: SSA, 411 Richland Hills Drive, San Antonio, Texas, 78245. You can also email him at


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