Three Big Social Security Mistakes a Woman Can Make

By Tom Margenau

November 3, 2009 5 min read

Mistake No. 1: Letting a man fill out your self-employment tax return:

Q: My ex-husband and I used to run our own business about 20 years ago. We did this for about five years. Now that I am about to turn 62 and am thinking of retiring, I'm paying more attention to my Social Security. And I've noticed that there are no earnings posted to my Social Security record for those five years when we had the business. We made pretty good money on the business and always filed a joint tax return.

Why didn't I get credit for my share of our business income?

A: I'll bet a man was your accountant and filled out your tax returns while you had the business with your husband. Or your ex-husband prepared the taxes himself.

Simply filing a joint tax return has nothing to do with the assignment of earnings and credits for Social Security purposes. The Social Security part of a self-employment tax return is a form called the Schedule SE. And during my 32- year career with the Social Security Administration, I'd guess that on 95 percent of the tax returns I saw involving mom and pop businesses (probably completed by men 99.9 percent of the time), pop's name and pop's Social Security number were listed on the Schedule SE. That means all the earnings and all the credits were posted to pop's Social Security record. And mom got zilch.

Assuming you were jointly running the business, all your accountant (or husband) needed to do was file two Schedule SEs, dividing the net profit from the business between you and your husband — his name and SSN on one and your name and SSN on the other.

You can check with the IRS to find out if there is anything you can do about this. But because it was so long ago, I think you're going to learn the answer is no. And you, like many women who run businesses with their husbands, will be stuck with a big gap in your Social Security record.

Mistake Number 2: Not putting up with the jerk for another few months:

Q: I was married to my husband for just two months shy of 10 years before we divorced. That was 25 years ago. I never remarried. I always thought I could get part of his Social Security. But now that I'm about to turn 65, I just learned that a divorced wife has to be married for 10 years to collect her ex's Social Security. Is there anything I can do about this?

A: Nothing. You're stuck with a hard and fast rule that says a marriage must last at least 10 years before a divorced woman can be eligible for any benefits on her ex-husband's Social Security record.

I'm sure that 25 years ago, Social Security was the last thing you were thinking about. You just wanted to get rid of the bum. But if you had hung onto the no good, cheating, conniving, lowdown snake for just a couple more months, you'd be able to get some payback by tapping into his Social Security account. Now I'm afraid that tap is dry for you!

Mistake Number 3: Forgetting to read the obits:

Q: My ex-husband and I were married for 25 years before getting a divorce. I never remarried. I pretty much lost touch with him, but I heard he remarried several times. I started getting my own Social Security retirement benefits 10 years ago. I just recently learned that my ex died three years ago, and that I could have been switched to higher divorced widow's benefit way back then. Can I get retroactive benefits?

A: Probably not. Benefits can only be paid retroactively if you can show that the government made some kind of mistake with your Social Security files. But in this case, the ball was in your court. In other words, it was your obligation to file for divorced widow's benefits right after your husband died. That's why I always tell divorced women (especially those who've lost touch with their ex) to read the obituaries and watch for the ex's name — and then hotfoot it down to the nearest Social Security office to claim what's rightfully yours!

To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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