Social Security 2008 - Mastery Exercise No. 1

Due: No later than 11:55 p.m. Feb. 10 (Sunday night)


Remember that this is not a research problem. While you should consult the relevant portions of the Act and Regulations, you are not expected to go outside the course materials and presentations for Topics 1 through 4.

Keep a copy of your submission. I would suggest that you prepare your response in your favorite word processor, save it, and then copy and paste the text into the box below. (But don't forget to select the appropriate multiple choice response and add your name.)

The course database should respond to your submission with a confirmation number. In the unlikely event that the system is not functioning, send me email to report the problem and try a bit later. If the problem persists and the deadline looms send your submission by email.


Roberta Collins is 56, mother of three grown children. She is currently employed by an insurance company as an administrative assistant. Roberta is estranged from her husband of five years, Frances Dillon. The two parted amicably and have settled all the financial issues between them. Since neither is of a mind to marry again Frances has steadfastly maintained that there is no reason for them to bother with the cost of a divorce. Recently, however, Roberta heard from a friend that divorcing Frances might make a difference to her potential Social Security benefits. She has turned to you for information and advice on that point.

Here are the facts as Ms. Collins has reported them to you. Her statement of earnings from the Social Security Administration shows a projected monthly retirement benefit of $1,212 at her "full retirement age" of 66 in 2017. (Roberta will turn 57 in March.) The SSA report shows earnings that began at the age of 20 ($5,000) but dropped to zero during the fifteen years Roberta was at home caring for young children. The earnings resumed when her youngest was a junior in high school and have climbed steadily to the current figure of $34,000. The SSA benefit estimate is premised on her earnings continuing at this level.

Roberta's first marriage was to Donald Bolinski, father of her children; it lasted from 1972 until 1991. Donald, an engineer, rose to a series of mid-level executive posts in industry prior to being laid off last year. He is soon to be 61 years old, 4 years Fran's senior. Husband number two, Frances Dillon, is a school teacher. Roberta does not have access to the Social Security record of either of these men, but her estimate of Bolinski's compensation during the time they were married and his positions since would put his earnings at or near the maximum taxable earnings base throughout most of his career, until last year that is. Using the Social Security Administration's on-line calculator (http://www.ssa.gov/planners/calculators.htm) you estimate that his retirement benefit, payable at full retirement age (also 66), will be around $2,200 per month (in current dollars). Dillon, Roberta says, was making only slightly more than she was during the time they were together. Guestimating him as earning at or slightly more than the national average, without a significant period like Roberta's out of covered employment, you place his PIA in the $1,400-$1,500 range (again, in current dollars). This calculation like Roberta's assumes continuing earnings at the same comparative level. Dillon is two years young than Roberta.

You inquire about everyone's health and learn the following. Bolinski's layoff has apparently put him through a lot of emotional stress. He is overweight and does not exercise, but Roberta knows of no specific medical problems. Dillon is a fitness nut, in great shape. Roberta has had diabetes since her twenties. She takes insulin to control the condition, and, so far, has not developed any of the serious associated conditions long-term type 1 diabetics worry about.

As best you can, working with this limited information and without a crystal ball, explain to Roberta how, if at all, a divorce from Frances Dillon might bear on her future Social Security benefits. Provide as helpful guidance as you can, in non-technical terms and no more than three paragraphs. Ms. Collins wants to know whether, solely from the standpoint of Social Security, - (select one)

Explanation (no more than three paragraphs):

Your name:


Note: This and the other three mastery exercises will count significantly toward the "class participation" element of your final grade for the course.