Getting Your Financial Ducks In A Row Rotating Header Image

File & Suspend vs. Restricted Application

file & suspendNote: 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.

These provisions in Social Security filing are, without a doubt, the two that cause the most confusion. Being very complicated provisions and also provisions that can be very helpful to folks wishing to maximize benefits, file & suspend and restricted application are often mis-used or completely misunderstood. So at the suggestion of a reader, seeing a comment response I’d given to another reader, I will provide some additional background on just what is the difference between these two, as well as when one is used versus the other.

First of all – although it is technically possible for one person to both file & suspend and file a restricted application, typically this results in either no benefit at all or very little benefit. You should not consider both of these to be done by one person unless there are some extenuating circumstances that require it (I can’t for the life of me think of any at the moment but there’s bound to be at least one).

Here’s why:

When you file & suspend, you have established a filing date. If you have established a filing date, the only spousal benefit that you are eligible to receive is the excess – which is the spousal benefit minus your own benefit. If this turns out to be negative, you would receive no spousal benefit at all. If your intent is to delay your own benefit as long as possible you would be unnecessarily reducing the spousal benefit (or eliminating it altogether) by doing a file & suspend.

On the other hand, you can only file a restricted application if you have not established a filing date, and you can only file this at or after your FRA. By filing a restricted application, you are eligible for the full amount of the spousal benefit (50% of your spouse’s FRA-age benefit) with no reduction. Your spouse must have established a filing date for her retirement benefit to enable you to file the restricted application.

The restricted application is called so because you are applying NOT for all available benefits, but you are restricting your application to spousal benefits only. If your application is not restricted, SSA considers it an application for all available benefits as of your filing date. You would file a restricted application if you wanted to delay your retirement benefit but also receive a spousal benefit in the meantime (until you file for your own retirement benefit).

To help with understanding, have a look at this prior article File & Suspend and Restricted Application are NOT Equal. There are a few examples toward the end of the article which will likely help illustrate the differences between the two provisions.

Hope this helps to clear things up about file & suspend and restricted application – if not, let me know in the comments below!



    I am 65 (will be 66 in December 2016) and still working; my husband is 67, retired, and has already filed for and is receiving SS for a few years already. I believe my SS income number is higher than his. Would the file + suspend or restricted SS benefit us?

    1. jblankenship says:

      File & suspend is out of the question for you.

      However, upon reaching age 66 you could file a restricted application for spousal benefits based on your husband’s record. This would enable you to receive spousal benefits while delaying your own to achieve the delay credits.

  2. Hello Jim,
    I am confused about these rules. I was born in 1953 and my wife in 1954. We both work a lot and are continuing to work and plan to work as long as we can.
    My projected retirement benefit is $2695 and my wife’s is $2100. We were both thinking that we most likely will not claim benefits until we turn 70. However reading these articles has me confused, is there a better strategy for us? I would appreciate your insight.

    1. jblankenship says:

      One alternative that you might consider is for your wife to file coinciding with your reaching Full Retirement Age, and then you filing a restricted application. What this will do is reduce your wife’s benefit a bit (but she’d be receiving for a longer period of time) and then also provide you with a spousal benefit equal to 50% of her unreduced benefit for the four years until you reach age 70.

      With that strategy you’re taking advantage of the restricted spousal benefit in exchange for maximizing your wife’s benefit. Your benefit is still maximized, which is critical since it will be the survivor benefit available to your wife should you pre-decease her.

      Other than that, you really don’t have any other options to maximize benefits. Of course, confirm all of this with SSA before putting it into place, as the rules can (and likely will!) change within the coming years.


  3. cjhulley says:

    My husband turned 66 on 2/11/16. He’s been on disability for about 8 years. He just got notice from SSA that his first Social Security retirement check would be arriving in March. He wants to collect a few checks to pay off bills and then suspend his benefit to accrue DRCs. He called SSA and was told because he was already receiving disability that he would not be able to suspend his retirement benefits to accrue DRCs. Is that correct? It is my understanding they he should be able to suspend his retirements benefits anytime after he starts receiving them.

    1. jblankenship says:

      He should be eligible to suspend his retirement benefit at any time after his age 66.


  4. Pamela Alexander says:

    Hi Jim,
    This is all so very confusing. We’ve done the research and are running the numbers in order to file. My husband will be 66 in February and I will ne 63 in January. I filed for my benefits in June of 2015 and began receiving a reduced amount in August at 62. We do wish to maximize our benefits by either doing a file and suspend or a restricted application.

    First, if I’ve begun receiving benefits, so if my husband does a file and suspend would I then be able to apply for spousal benefits that would add an additional two to three hundred to the reduced amount I am already receiving. What form would I file with social security administration and could it be filed in tandem with my husbands suspension of his benefits. Can this be filed for in January with a start date after his birthday in February.

    Second, it is my understanding that my husband can file a restricted application upon reaching 66 and take half of my full retirement but can he apply in January or again does he have to wait until his birthday has actually come and gone.


    1. jblankenship says:

      You have described two situations, your husband doing a file & suspend or filing a restricted application. Only one of these would be available, you can’t do both.

      If your husband files and suspends, you would receive an increase to your benefits if the spousal benefit is greater than your own. Your husband would not receive any benefits until he removes the suspend – which could be as late as age 70.

      On the other hand, your husband could file a restricted application, and he would receive 50% of your unreduced benefit. You would not receive any increase to your benefits until your husband files based on his own record, as late as age 70.

      Hope this helps –


  5. Franklin S. Smith says:

    I will be 68 in Feb. 2016 and my wife will be 65 in Oct 2016. Her earnings are slightly higher than mine and so far neither of us has filed for benefits. What strategy should we use to receive the best bang for our bucks? Also does my wife have to wait until FRA to recieve a spousal benefit or can I receive a spousal benefit based on her FRA benefit?

    1. jblankenship says:

      One option that you have available to you is if you were to file & suspend prior to April 30, 2016, then your wife could file a restricted application for spousal benefits upon reaching FRA in Oct 2017. This would provide her with a benefit during the time between her FRA and age 70, assuming that you want to delay to that age.

      Otherwise, if you don’t file & suspend and you delay your benefits to age 70, at that point your wife would be eligible for a spousal benefit via a restricted application – same as above, just a year or so later.

      Regarding your closing question, your wife must be at FRA to receive a spousal benefit if she is delaying her own benefit. Also, in order for her to receive a spousal benefit you must have filed for your benefit.

      In order for you to receive a spousal benefit based on your wife’s record, she must file for her own benefit. She does not have the option to file & suspend.


  6. JANET HANKINS says:

    My husband (67) and I (66) come under the WEP. My husband, also, had a business and paid into SS. His monthly SS payment is $1,657 a month. I started receiving SS effective June and my monthly payment is $361.40. We both have $104.90 deducted per month for Medicare Part B.

    Is there something I should have/or can do to collect on my husband’s SS?

    Thank you for your help!

    1. jblankenship says:

      It’s likely that a spousal benefit available to you is likewise limited by GPO, as your own benefit is limited by WEP. GPO reduces the available spousal or survivor benefit by 2/3 of the amount of pension being received from a domestic governmental entity. You can check with SSA to see if you are eligible for spousal benefits, but if your government pension is more than $1,242 per month GPO has eliminated it.


  7. Jim W says:

    Hi Jim.
    I am 65 (will turn 66 Sept. 2016) and too late for file & suspend to be an option for me. My wife is 62 (soon to be 63).
    1st off I will say that, since i was the main wage earner most all of of our married life, I had been planning to file & suspend at age 66 and was very surprised and disappointed when the BiPartisan Budget Act changed the rules in mid year. Would have suspected to maybe take effect for the file & suspend part at the end of 2016 so all born in 1950 would be allowed the same benefit….
    OK ~ water under the bridge for that strategy.
    Now my question is:
    My wife’s current early benefit would be approximately $600 and $800 at FRA. (I am rounding to make the question easier.)
    Would I be correct in saying that if she applied for early benefits ($600) – I could file a Restricted Application and draw 50% of her full retirement amount of $800 ($400) giving us a monthly total benefit of $1000 until which time I file for my own benefit which would then be approximately $2400 at FRA increasing to $3200 at age 70?
    Please let me know if you see any holes with this strategy or if there might be a better way to maximize our benefit.
    If you think this is good ~ should I wait until my FRA to file the Restricted App or can I do it immediately upon her receiving the early benefit?

    Thank you very much for considering these questions.

    1. jblankenship says:

      Looks good. Once you reach age 70 and file for your own benefit your wife will be eligible to file for an increase for spousal benefits as well. She would be able to add approximately $400 to her reduced benefit for a total of $1,000 in benefits, on top of your $3,200. Of course COLAs will cause the amounts to be different in the future.

      You cannot file a restricted application until FRA, so your question is moot.


  8. With the new budget bill that recently passed in Congress, if I am now 64 and my wife is 63, since neither of us have reached FRA, can we wait until I reach FRA (ie. 2 years away) for me to “file and suspend” and then have her apply for a “restricted application?” Or, do we have to do this within the next 6 months?

    1. jblankenship says:

      If you file and suspend when you reach FRA the new rules would apply and your wife would not be allowed to receive a spousal benefit based on your record. This type of file and suspend is only available if you enact the suspend by April 30, 2016. In addition, you cannot suspend benefits until you are at or older than FRA. Since you will not be age 66 by April 30, 2016, you are not eligible to suspend and use the old rules.

      Therefore – you can either A) delay your benefits to age 70 and at that time your wife can file for spousal benefits; or B) file for your benefit at some point after your wife reaches FRA, allowing her to file a restricted application for spousal benefits. Option B requires you to be actively collecting your own benefit, not delaying to accrue the 8% per year credits.


  9. Doug says:

    Thanks Jim for all your work!

    I am 64 and on SSD and a year younger than my wife. My wife is planning to use a restricted application to file for a spousal benefit when she reaches FRA in order to receive 50% of my PIA and take her own benefit at 70.

    My research indicates this is possible but your 2011 post on disability seems to indicate that she would have to wait until I reach FRA and am on regular SS.

    I would have added this question to the 2011 post but comments seem to have been closed.

    Thanks again, Doug

    1. jblankenship says:

      Doug –

      I believe she can take the spousal benefit based upon your SSDI. You should ask SSA about this to be certain, as I’m not finding a definitive reference at the moment.


  10. Jay says:

    Ok, thanks Jim. I guess I feel a little better about not being able to find anything on suspending and unsuspending multiple times. If I find anything definitive, I will let you know.

  11. Jay Stein says:


    I believe I understand the differences between “File and Suspend” and the “Restricted Application”. In both cases, can you start claiming earned benefits before age 70? In your articles, and responses, I could only find references to claiming benefits at age 70. Can you claim anytime after FRA and 70? Thanks.

    1. jblankenship says:

      Yes, certainly Jay. You bring up a good point: I always use age 70 as that’s the latest you’d want to delay, but you can always “unsuspend” or remove the restriction any time after you’ve either suspended or filed a restricted application.


      1. Jay says:

        Hi Jim,

        My wife (and, frankly, my financial planner) wants to tap into our SS to the full extent now. She is fearful that rules my change, etc. I like the idea of us both waiting until 70 to max out everything. I have studied your blog, and numerous other sources, and have come up with this compromise:

        1) I am 66. File for my FRA PIA now.
        2) My wife is 63. She waits until her FRA, and files a “restricted application” for her full spousal benefit (50% of mine. I am the much higher earner. My SS PIA is almost 3 times hers.)
        3) At 70, my wife files for her own SS benefit utilizing the DRC’s. This amount will be higher than her spousal benefit.

        I know the cash flow is not as good as both of us waiting until 70, but other than that, do you see any flaws/”gotcha’s” in this plan.


        1. jblankenship says:

          Jay –

          That strategy is sound. I don’t see any reason why this wouldn’t work out for you.

          With regard to your wife’s concerns – I share the concern that things are likely to change regarding benefits in the future. But from past experience (and yes, it’s no guarantee!) we see that when the rules have been changed before, current and near-term beneficiaries were not impacted. Last time there was a major change to the rules was with the 1981 rule changes – and the impacts weren’t felt for a full generation afterward.

          Hope this helps –


          1. Jay says:

            It does help! Thank you!

          2. Jay says:

            Hi Jim,

            Another quick question on my strategy: I know I can file, collect benefits for a while, and then suspend benefits to accrue some DRC’s at least once. But, I cannot find any information on how many times the SSA would let me suspend and restart benefits between the ages of 66 and 70. Can you help? Thanks.

          3. jblankenship says:

            I’ll have to research it further, but I don’t see anything right away that would limit the number of times an individual could suspend and unsuspend benefits between FRA and age 70.


Get involved!

Discover more from Getting Your Financial Ducks In A Row

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading