Ex-spouse gets half of pension if the marriage lasted 10 years

Moneyline

Even a no-good bum can get Social Security

Dollars & Sense

February 13, 2000|By Liz Pulliam Weston | Liz Pulliam Weston,LOS ANGELES TIMES

I was married for 24 years but divorced in 1984. I continued working, but my ex-husband has not had a tax-paying job since. I got a really good job in 1987. My question is: Can my ex get Social Security benefits based on my earnings after the divorce or just on what I earned during our marriage?

He may be a shiftless bum, and you may resent that he will qualify for Social Security based on your earnings rather than his own. But any former spouse who was married at least 10 years can receive half of the ex's benefit amount if both members of the erstwhile couple are at least 62. His benefit will be based on your lifetime earnings at that point, not just the earnings during your marriage.

Note, though, that whatever he gets will not reduce your Social Security check by one dime.

There is a wide price range for the same auto insurance coverage. In most human activities, there's no such thing as a free lunch, so that's got to be true in auto insurance as well. What's the downside if I pick a low-cost insurer?

That depends on which insurer you pick and what you consider a downside.

If you don't mind dealing with your company over the phone, rather than in person, you might not care that it keeps its costs low by not having agents. If you can't ever get that company to answer its phones, however, you may think it's taken the low-cost thing too far.

Likewise, you may admire a company that watches the bottom line so closely that it challenges every claim -- until you get rear-ended and can't get your car fixed.

Even when you eliminate the real dogs, however, you'll still find a huge range of prices for what is essentially the same insurance. That's because some companies prefer not to write certain types of insurance in certain areas, and price accordingly. Insurers also know that not as many consumers shop around as should.

That's why a married couple in Burbank with a good driving record might pay $2,144 a year for standard coverage from the Auto Club of Southern California, while the same policy from State Farm might cost $2,958 (these figures are from last year's California Department of Insurance premium survey). Geico, meanwhile, was charging $4,372. All three companies have good reputations for customer service and for paying claims, but going with the Auto Club could save the couple more than $2,000 a year.

Most other states have similar premium comparison surveys, and they all show the same thing: big price variations for what is basically the same product.

For that kind of savings, it's worth doing a little research. At this point, you won't get a lot of help from those online insurance-quoting services. None so far offers a truly comprehensive, up-to-date look at the market. But Consumer Reports, at 800-224-9495, has an excellent telephone-based service that can take your specific information and give you quotes from more than 20 companies, all for $12 for the first car and $8 for each additional vehicle.

Or, you can look at your state's premium comparison survey. Just call the insurance department's number in your local telephone book. Or you can visit its Web site (In Maryland, www.mia.state.md.us). The information will be out of date and not as customized as that from the Consumer Reports service, but you'll get an idea of the lowest prices in your area.

Once you've got a few companies in mind, do a little background check. Ask your co-workers about their experiences with these companies. If your state insurance department has a complaint survey, take a look at that. (Pay particular attention to the companies that have the lowest complaint ratios and those that have the highest; these surveys tend to have significant flaws, making all the data in the middle mostly noise.) Then get the customer service and claims numbers and call them, both during the day and after hours. Better to find out before you're a customer that you'd be spending the next six months on hold.

Pub Date: 2/13/00

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