Note: with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Bill of 2015 into law, File & Suspend and Restricted Application have been effectively eliminated for anyone born in 1954 or later. If born before 1954 there are some options still available, but these are limited as well. Please see the article The Death of File & Suspend and Restricted Application for more details.
When you have reached Full Retirement Age (FRA – age 66 if you were born between 1946 and 1954), you have the option to file for Spousal Benefits separately from your own benefit. This is known as a restricted application – and is often referred to as “get some now, get more later ”. Of course, you must either be married to another Social Security recipient who has filed for benefits, or you have divorced after 10 years of marriage to someone who is at least 62 years of age. If divorced, either your ex must have filed for benefits or at least two years has passed since your divorce.
In order to get your Spousal Benefit now and then get more benefits later, you will need to file a restricted application for spousal benefits when you have reached Full Retirement Age. Typically you should file for this benefit a few months in advance (SSA says up to 3 months in advance) and instruct them to begin your Spousal Benefit when you reach FRA.
An important factor in this process is that you have not filed for any benefits previous to the restricted application. That means you could not have filed for your own benefit earlier. In addition, if you were receiving SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) up to Full Retirement Age, this option is also not available to you.
Do Not File and Suspend
You also would not file and suspend. For some reason, many folks get this confused, thinking that they need to file and suspend and then file a restricted application. If you file and suspend, that takes away your option to file a restricted application – since one of the requirements for a restricted application is that you have not filed for benefits previously. Even though you would not be receiving benefits (having suspended) the action of file and suspend is actually filing for your own benefits. Therefore, if you file and suspend, you are not allowed to file a restricted application for spousal benefits.
Probably the reason for the confusion is that many times if both spouses of a married couple are wishing to delay benefits to age 70, in order for one member of the couple to file a restricted application for spousal benefits, the OTHER member of the couple may need to file and suspend.
In the case of a divorced couple, there is no need for file and suspend at all if the divorce was finalized at least two years ago. This is known as independent entitlement to spousal benefits, and so no one would need to file and suspend to allow for a restricted application for either member of the former couple.
Lissette wants to delay her own benefit as long as possible. She is reaching Full Retirement Age soon, and has been divorced for more than two years after her marriage. In order to take advantage of the “get some now, get more later ” option, when Lissette reaches FRA, she will file a restricted application for spousal benefits. As is often the case with a divorced individual, Lissette visits her local SSA office and brings along the documentation of her marriage, divorce, and her ex-husband’s Social Security number. With this information, Lissette can file a restricted application for Spousal Benefits.
Later, when Lissette reaches age 70, she can file for her own benefits, which will have maximized due to the delay credits adding 32% to her PIA.
Your Spouse Will File and Suspend
On the other hand, Carol, age 65 is looking forward to using the “get some now, get more later ” option when she reaches age 66, her Full Retirement Age. Ronald, her husband, is reaching his FRA of age 66 3 months after Carol. Ronald also wants to delay his benefit to maximize it at age 70.
When Carol reaches age 66, since Ronald has not yet filed for any benefits, she is not yet eligible for the restricted application. If she filed for benefits now, that would take away her option to file a restricted application when Ronald has filed for his benefits. She also would NOT file and suspend – as explained earlier, this would eliminate her option to file a restricted application.
So three months after Carol’s 66th birthday, when Ronald reaches FRA, Ronald files and suspends his benefit – he doesn’t want to receive the benefit now, he wants to delay as long as possible. He only files and suspends now in order to allow Carol to file a restricted application. Since Ronald has filed (file & suspend) Carol is now allowed to file a restricted application for spousal benefits.
It could have gone the other way – Carol could have filed and suspended at her FRA and then 3 months later Ronald could have filed a restricted application for Spousal Benefits. But this wouldn’t have worked out as well since Ronald’s PIA is $2,200 and Carol’s is $1,500. The Spousal Benefit for Carol (based on Ronald’s record) is $1,100; if they did it the other way the Spousal Benefit for Ronald (based on Carol’s record) would only have been $750.
[graphiq id=”3GQQ2SZjuE5″ title=”Average Social Security Payout per Month” width=”600″ height=”520″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/3GQQ2SZjuE5″ link=”http://time-series.findthedata.com/l/56643/Average-Social-Security-Payout-per-Month” link_text=”Average Social Security Payout per Month | FindTheData”]