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Everything You Need to Know About File & Suspend and the April 30 Deadline

suspended balloonsBy now if you’re of a certain age, you have probably heard about the end of the file & suspend option for Social Security benefits. If not, click on this link to learn more about this option and the April 30 deadline due to changes made by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

However, as my email inbox indicates, you have lots of questions about file & suspend.  This article is my effort to cover all the bases with regard to everything you need to know about file & suspend and the April 30 deadline.

For starters, if you and your spouse were born after April 30, 1950, this article does not apply to you, so you can stop reading. If one of you was born before April 30, 1950, the file & suspend option only applies to that individual, not to both of you. Of course, if both of you were born before April 30, 1950, then file & suspend could apply to either of you – but only one of you would actually file & suspend.

Ground rules

The ground rules for file & suspend are as follows:

  1. You must be at least at Full Retirement Age (66) in order to file & suspend.
  2. There is an April 30 deadline to enact this option (April 30, 2016, and never after that date).
  3. You would only file & suspend if you wish to delay filing your own benefit (or stop receiving your benefit) until some age later than FRA, and one of the following (and perhaps both):
    • You wish to enable someone else (spouse or child) to receive benefits based on your record.
    • You wish to preserve the opportunity to file for a lump sum retroactive benefit at some later age, before you reach age 70.
  4. While your benefits are suspended, you will not receive benefits based on your own record, and you will not be eligible for spousal benefits via restricted application or otherwise (*see below for a technical exception).

Practical Application

If you were born after April 30, 1950, file & suspend (under the old rules) is not for you, so you can stop reading.

Further, if you have already filed for your own benefit and you want to continue receiving your benefit, you would not want to file & suspend.

Once you have filed and suspended, your spouse can file for spousal benefits (or your eligible child can file for child’s benefits) as soon as eligible. For example, if your spouse is already (or has just reached) age 62, he or she will be eligible for spousal benefits upon filing for his or her own benefit.

If you have filed and suspended, your spouse born before 1954 will be eligible to file a restricted application for spousal benefits upon reaching FRA – as long as he or she has not already filed for benefits based on his or her own record.

How to Do It

In order to file & suspend, just the same as filing for any other benefit, you have three options for filing:

  1. Online – you file for benefits at www.SocialSecurity.gov as if you wanted to begin receiving the benefits immediately; at the end of the application there is a “Remarks” section – in this section you will enter the following: I wish to immediately suspend my benefits after filing in order to earn delay credits.
  2. Paper application – using form SSA-BK-1 you do just as described in #1 above, filing out the form as if you wish to receive the benefit immediately, then putting the following line in the Remarks section at the end: I wish to immediately suspend my benefits after filing in order to earn delay credits.
  3. On the phone – call 1-800-772-1213 and tell the representative that you wish to file for your benefit and immediately suspend the benefit in order to earn delay credits.
  4. In person – visit your local Social Security Administration office and tell your representative that you wish to file for your benefit and immediately suspend the benefit in order to earn delay credits.

*Technical Exception to the suspended benefits rule

Earlier in the Ground Rules I mentioned a technical exception to the rule about not being eligible to receive spousal benefits when you have suspended your own benefit. The exception works like this:

Joe has a benefit of $600 available to him if he files at Full Retirement Age. Joe’s wife Barbara, age 67, is already collecting her benefit of $1,500 per month. When Joe reaches Full Retirement Age, he files and suspends his benefit. Joe is still eligible for a restricted application for spousal benefits based upon his wife’s record – but the benefit he will receive is not going to be 50% of Barbara’s benefit. Joe will receive only the excess spousal benefit.

The excess spousal benefit is calculated as 50% of Barbara’s benefit minus Joe’s age 66 benefit – $1,500 / 2 = $750, minus Joe’s benefit of $600 equals $150. So Joe can receive $150 until he decides to unsuspend his benefit, at which point he will be eligible to receive the larger of either the full 50% of Barbara’s benefit or his own benefit, increased by delay credits. If Joe has delayed to age 70, his DRC-enhanced benefit would be $792.

If the above example seems a bit odd, it’s because there are very few plausible situations where this exception might be applied.

30 Comments

  1. Dave LockettNo Gravatar says:

    Great article! I can’t seem to find a definitive answer to this question. I filed and have been receiving SS benefits for approximately 14 months. I would like to file and suspend now and delay collecting my benefits until I reach 70. I have called SSA on multiple occasions and I am getting the same answer – if I suspend, I would have to repay the benefits I have collected (we don’t want to apply for spousal benefits). Can you clarify this particular set of circumstances?

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      The first problem is that you can’t file & suspend now – you’ve already filed (as you mention, 14 months ago). Now, you can suspend at this point, you just need to request to suspend your benefits to accrue delay credits.

      When you talk to SSA and they tell you you would have to repay benefits, tell them clearly that you are not withdrawing your application, you are suspending benefits to accrue delay credits.

      What they’re describing to you (paying back the benefits) is a withdrawal of application.

  2. Pat rickNo Gravatar says:

    I need one answer. If I file and suspend I get 8% but I lose my monthly amount, Right?

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      Well, the answer isn’t as quick and dirty as you might think, in part because it’s not real clear what you’re asking.

      If you are currently receiving Social Security benefits and you suspend, you will stop receiving benefits and begin accruing delay credits at the rate of 8% per year. You can only suspend once you have reached Full Retirement Age.

      If you are not currently receiving benefits and you file and suspend, you will not receive any benefits, but you will also accrue the delay credits as described above.

      In either case, if you file and suspend prior to April 30, 2016, you will enable other dependents (your spouse or young children) to collect benefits based on your record while you accrue the delay credits. Plus, having suspended benefits prior to April 30 you will have the option to change your mind and take a lump sum of benefits from any age, FRA or after.

      If you don’t have dependents, and you don’t care about the option to change your mind to go with the lump sum option at some point before age 70, you only need to *not* file (suspending isn’t necessary) to accrue the 8% delay credits.

      1. Pat rickNo Gravatar says:

        Thanks for the response, I am 66 my fra from 10/04/2015. I will get $2400.00, my wife is 64 and has a small pension from Calpers, $600.00 and has SS she has not filed on assuming waiting until her fra she will get 1/2 of my benefit. If I file and suspend now and change my mind to go back to my fra and collect the lump sum would my monthly be $2400. or would I get some 8% credits?

        1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

          Your monthly benefit amount will be based on the date that you go back to for the lump sum. So if you take a lump sum from FRA to the current date when you take the lump sum, your benefit going forward would be based on your FRA amount, without any delay credits applied.

  3. Bill CasonNo Gravatar says:

    I followed your guidance on calling SSA and have successfully filed and suspended — and received confirming documentation. Much thx once again for such great guidance.

    I’m wondering now how my wife who turns 66 in July should proceed with her filing. It would be great if you penned a companion article for her situation much like this one.

    Thanks

    Bill

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      Coming up soon – you’re reading my mind! :)

  4. DaveHNo Gravatar says:

    You are totally awesome, Jim! Thanks again! I believe we now have the clarity to sleep well with our decisions. Cheers!

  5. DaveHNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for replying, Jim.

    The numbers are: my FRA amount: 2495/mo; my wife’s amount today: 437/mo. Her benefit would never grow to greater than 50% of mine.

    One of the perceptions we had when she was 62 was that, if we had her file and me file for spousal benefits, then I would not be able to file&suspend later, and thus she would not be allowed to subsequently file a restricted application based on my record. Thus, we waited. (Another perception was that there was the possibility we would have had to pay back whatever we had received up until then.)

    Thank you for providing this blog, as it helps not only with this complex subject but also with thinking about our goals regarding S/S.

    Dave

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      Your perception that you mention is exactly the case – if she files first for her own benefit she won’t be eligible for a restricted application. But given her benefit amount, there’s no point in filing a restricted application in the first place. The only reason she would file a restricted app is if her own benefit could grow to an amount larger than the spousal benefit.

      So – you could have your wife file now and at your FRA you could file a restricted application. This would provide you with $437 + approximately $250 in spousal benefits for four years. Then at your age 70 you would be eligible for $3,293 plus your wife’s spousal benefit of approximately $1,184.

      On the other hand, you could file & suspend now, and your wife would be immediately eligible for approximately $1,080 in reduced spousal benefits, or she could wait until her own FRA and file for approximately $1,247 in spousal benefits. You would still be eligible for your own, enhanced benefit of approximately $3,293 upon reaching age 70. Your wife’s benefit would not change after her original filing.

      The second option seems to be pretty clearly superior to the first, but of course you are the final judge.

      jb

  6. DaveHNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Jim,

    I’m 66 (as of DEC2015) and was planning on filing&suspending before April 30, 2016, then have my wife (64, with a much lower personal benefit) file for spousal benefit upon turning 66 (in 16 months.)

    I recently read that we are leaving money on the table right now because she could have filed a few years ago when she turned 62, and I could have filed for spousal benefit at that time as well. Then when she turns 66, I could file for my benefit, and she could file for spousal benefit. Under this alternative, I understand I would not file&suspend before April 30, 2016.

    Our goal is to maximize her benefit in the event I die before her, and also have her start drawing no later than when she reaches FRA in 16 months.

    So, should we sign her up now and at least start drawing “her’s x1.5” until she turns 66 (in 16 months), at which time I would file for benefits and she would draw half of mine as a spousal benefit?

    Or should we stay with our original plan, because it gives us the option (via my F&S’ing now) of delaying my draw start date?

    Thanks!

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      Without knowing the numbers involved it’s hard to tell what would be the best option for you.

      Generally when the concern is to maximize the amount of benefit that a younger surviving spouse would receive upon the death of the older, higher earning spouse, it makes sense to delay the older spouse’s benefit filing to as late a date as possible. Either of your options (you file & suspend now, or you file a restricted application now) would preserve your ability to delay your own benefit to age 70.

      I suppose the primary question is whether or not her own benefit would ever grow to an amount greater than 50% of your benefit. If it would (by her delaying to age 70) then it might make the most sense for you to file and suspend at this point, with your wife filing for spousal benefit via restricted application upon her reaching age 66. If her own benefit will never be larger than 50% of your benefit, then perhaps the other option might be better.

      jb

  7. SusanNo Gravatar says:

    My Medicare question was meant as a reply to your reply to Mike Zlatic, but clicking on Reply didn’t make it show up there – just clarifying my reference.

  8. SusanNo Gravatar says:

    I’m already enrolled in Medicare & paying my Part B premiums, but if I file & suspend immediately, they have nothing to take those premiums out of, so I presume they can’t screw me up there, right. I’ll keep paying it directly until my SS benefits start up whenever they do?

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      Correct, if you file & suspend you will continue paying your premium as you have before.

  9. SusanNo Gravatar says:

    I want to confirm 1 more thing before I leap into this w/ the SSA (because my chats with the SS office indicate they don’t necessarily know much about lump sums) –
    I am currently unemployed & am having discouraging results from my job search. I’m still expecting to become re-employed, but I am now less confident about staying employed full time until I’m 70 (I’m nearly 67). If I suspend & then have financial difficulties before turning 70 – & even before the lump sum accumulates enough to warrant collecting it (& being relegated to lower premiums “forever”) – do I still have the option to forgo the lump & restart with benefits that are at least somewhat higher than when originally filed? I’m just making sure I won’t be locked into a lump sum somehow. Call me paranoid…

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      You are not locked in to taking a lump sum, that is only an option you could choose.

      jb

  10. Sheryl HartleyNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for your excellent information. Here is my question. My husband is 67, and he filed and suspended right after he turned 66 and hopes to wait until 70 to take his Social Security. He had much higher earnings than I had. I will be at FRA this October. Can I also file and suspend and take 1/2 of his benefit while mine continues to grow? We met with a S.S. representative in November, and she said we could do this, but we get different answers each time we ask. One half of his benefit is higher than my benefit at 66.
    Thank you.

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      That’s probably because you’re not asking for what you really want. You do not want to file & suspend. You want to file a restricted application, which is an entirely different thing. In fact, if you file & suspend you will not be eligible to file for spousal benefits at all.

      So anyhow – yes, you should be able to file a restricted application for spousal benefits when you reach FRA.

      jb

  11. […] before April 30, 1950? Time is running out to take advantage of this Social Security strategy (via Jim Blankenship, […]

  12. Lin SheppardNo Gravatar says:

    After many hours online, I cannot find consistent answers to these two questions, taking the upcoming change into account.
    Can Spouse #1 (FRA) file and suspend and Spouse #2 apply later when they reach FRA?
    Can Spouse #1 (FRA) file and suspend and if Spouse #2 applies before FRA will their own benefit keep growing if they are still employed?

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      1. probably – there is no official guidance yet from SSA on how spousal benefits are going to work post-April 30. My interpretation is that Spouse #2 will be eligible for benefits at FRA after #1 does the file & suspend.
      2. Not sure whose benefit you’re referring to that will keep growing. Spouse #1’s would, since that individual has filed and suspended. Spouse #2, if applying for benefits earlier than FRA, would only achieve minimal increases to benefits due to (potentially) greater earnings being added to his or her record due to continuing to work. More clarification is needed for a better answer…

      jb

  13. Mike ZlaticNo Gravatar says:

    As with any filing for SSA benefits, remember that the SSA filing automatically enrolls you for Part A Medicare. And, this Medicare enrollment causes some significant income tax predicaments if you are still working and have an HSA through your employer. When my wife and I ‘filed and suspended’, we got caught in this trap and, it was even worse since our Medicare Part A enrollment was ‘pre-dated’ (by 6 months) our SSA enrollment.

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      Great point, Mike. Thanks for sharing.

    2. deb roussosNo Gravatar says:

      Help–there is only this one reference deep into the column on filing, working and HSA. What are the “income tax predicments” and “the trap” specifically that Mike Zlatic refers to? My husband will be 67 soon and is still working and has full health insurance and an HSA at work that covers both of us. Recently he signed up for Medicare, just to get it done, but not because he needs it or intends to take advantage of it. I am 65 and have not worked outside the home. I thought he should file and suspend before 4/29. But should we be concerned about Mike’s “significnt income tax predicaments”? Can you clarify this?
      Thanks.

      1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

        If your husband is already signed up for Medicare, the situation Mike described is already in place: your husband can no longer contribute to the HSA plan because he’s covered by Medicare. File & suspend will not change that for him.

  14. Bill CasonNo Gravatar says:

    JIm,

    Much thx for prompt reply!

    Bill

  15. Bill CasonNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent summary and much appreciated. We are one of the fortunate couples who can use this and I plan to soon execute my file and suspend. I do have one question: Since this is very important to our retirement plan, what “paper trail” or documentation can i ask for to insure that the action doesn’t get lost in the bureaucracy ?

    Once again — great article and much appreciated.

    Bill

    1. jblankenshipNo Gravatar says:

      You’ll receive a confirmation letter after your interaction with SSA.

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