Note: with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act 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.
I get a lot (a LOT) of questions about the File and Suspend tactic for Social Security benefits, so I thought some more review would help. For the uninitiated, File and Suspend is a tactic that married couples can use to help maximize their total Social Security benefits. In this post I’ll try to cover some of the more common questions.
File and Suspend works like this: One of the two in the couple can file an application for Social Security benefits and then immediately suspend in order to not receive the benefits. This can allow the other spouse to utilize the first spouse’s record to receive a Spousal Benefit. Other eligible dependents (such as children under 18) can also receive benefits based upon the filed and suspended record.
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There are a few factors to note about File and Suspend:
- You must be at least at Full Retirement Age (FRA) to File and Suspend.
- Either spouse can File and Suspend, but not both. By Suspending, you are not eligible to receive a Spousal Benefit.
- If the non-Suspending spouse is under FRA and begins receiving Spousal Benefits, he or she will no longer be earning Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) on his or her own record. Plus both the Spousal Benefit and the “own” benefit of the non-suspending spouse will be permanently reduced by filing before FRA.
- The spouse that has not Filed and Suspended can receive Spousal Benefits based on the other spouse’s record at any age over 62 – but the amount of the benefit will be reduced if the spouse receiving Spousal Benefits is less than FRA. At FRA, the Spousal Benefit would be 50% of the filed and suspended worker’s Primary Insurance Amount.
Why File and Suspend?
The main reason for File and Suspend is to allow the Suspending spouse to delay receiving benefits, earning up to 8% in Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) per year. This will not only increase the amount of benefit that the Suspending spouse will receive when he or she files for benefits, but it will also increase the amount of Survivor Benefits for the other spouse. At the same time, the other spouse can be receiving Spousal Benefits based on the first spouse’s record.
Here’s an example: The husband has a PIA amount of $2,300, and his wife has a PIA amount of $1,500. The couple are both at FRA. The husband Files and Suspends, and the wife can immediately begin collecting a Spousal Benefit equal to 50% of the husband’s PIA – $1,150. At the same time, both spouses are accruing DRCs on each of their own records. Both of them can delay filing for benefits on his and her own record until age 70, at which point they will each have achieved the maximum benefit on their own records. When she reaches age 70, the wife will file for her own benefit and discontinue receiving the Spousal Benefit. The husband will also re-file at age 70.
Another example: The wife has a PIA amount of $2,000, and the husband has a PIA of $1,000. The wife is at FRA, and the husband is a year younger. When the husband reaches FRA, the wife could File and Suspend, and the husband can begin receiving a Spousal Benefit of 50% of the wife’s PIA, delaying filing for his own benefit in order to receive the DRCs.
The husband in the second example could choose to begin receiving Spousal Benefits before FRA. In that case though, he would not be eligible for DRCs. This is due to the rule that requires a “deemed filing” if you file for Spousal Benefits prior to FRA. A deemed filing is the same has having filed for your own benefit, and as such your benefit and the Spousal Benefit will be reduced, permanently, due to the early filing.
A third example: The husband has a PIA of $2,000 and the wife has a PIA of $500. The husband is two years younger than the wife, she is 66 (FRA) and he is 64. The wife has begun receiving her own benefit at FRA. Since the husband is not yet at FRA, File and Suspend is not available to him. However, once he reaches FRA, he can File and Suspend, and the wife can begin collecting a Spousal Benefit, increasing her own benefit to 50% of his PIA.
It’s important to note that for all of the examples, the spouse that is described as having Filed and Suspended could just as easily filed for his or her own benefit and begun receiving it immediately, rather than suspending. This would also enable the other spouse to begin receiving Spousal Benefits. The spouse that is collecting benefits on his or her own record would just no longer be accruing DRCs for his or her future benefit.