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SOCIAL SECURITY Q&A: Splitting earnings a concern for couples

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Q: Divorced and unmarried for over a decade, I had been married for more than 20 years. We farmed, but when I checked my Social Security Statement work record (www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/), only my non-farm wages were shown. The years of farm self-employment earnings were not there even though my ex-husband and I worked together. Why would this be? Do I get any Social Security credit for that work? My ex-husband has since died.

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A: It is likely that all of the self-employment income was posted to your ex-husband’s work record rather than split between the two of you. If so, this does not imply that a mistake was made. Assigning self-employment income is done on your tax return and would have been a decision made by the two of you and your tax preparer at the time.

During the time you farmed, and even now, self-employment earnings were often credited to one person, usually the husband, even when both spouses worked together. Positives and negatives exist to doing this. A positive is that the person credited will have a larger benefit amount for future retirement or other SSA benefit. This can increase benefits to eligible family members on the record. A negative is that the person not credited, such as you, will have a smaller retirement benefit, or perhaps not be insured at all unless also working at another job.

If working together in a self-employment business, this is an important topic for a couple to discuss. Being insured for Social Security is not just about retirement. It involves possible benefits if the person not credited becomes disabled or dies, especially if family benefits to minor or adult disabled children could be involved.

At age 60 you are potentially eligible for surviving divorced spousal benefits on your ex-husbands record. Indirectly this could provide you a Social Security benefit related to your farm work because a survivor benefit to you would be higher with all the self-employment credited to his record rather than split between the two of you.

Contact Social Security for an estimate on your ex-husband’s account. A survivors benefit estimate cannot be obtained online. To obtain one, call the national SSA toll-free number, (800) 772-1213 / TTY (800) 325-0778 (7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. business days) or your local office.

Learn about SSA survivors benefits, including those for a surviving divorced spouse at www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm.

 

Kossover is the Social Security public affairs specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Reach him at howard.kossover@ssa.gov. Read his blog at social securityinfo.areavoices.com.

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