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Social Security Ground Rules

Social Security Owners Manual 4th Edition(In celebration of the release, here is an excerpt with some extras, from A Social Security Owner’s Manual, 4th Edition.)

There are certain rules that will be helpful to fully accept as facts while you learn about your Social Security benefits. If this is your first reading of the list, skim through before moving on. Don’t expect to fully understand these rules on the start – but keep in mind you may need to refer back to this list of Ground Rules from time to time so you can keep things straight.

Basic Social Security Rules

  • The earliest age you can receive retirement benefits is 62.
  • The earliest age you can receive Survivor Benefits is 60 (50 if you are disabled).
  • Filing for any benefit before Full Retirement Age will result in a reduction to the benefits.
  • Your spouse must have filed for his or her retirement benefit in order to enable you to file for Spousal Benefits. This benefit may be suspended if the “suspend” is or was done prior to April 30, 2016.
  • File & Suspend and filing a Restricted Application are two distinctly different things. *Both of these options were curtailed significantly with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA15).
    • File and suspend to allow another person (spouse or dependents) to receive benefits based on your record is only allowed by April 30, 2016.
    • Restricted Application is only available if you were born before 1954.
    • See The Death of File & Suspend and Restricted Application for more details on each of these.
  • The earliest age you can File & Suspend is your Full Retirement Age. This applies whether you are suspending under the new rules (after BBA15) or the old rules.
  • The earliest age you can file a Restricted Application is your Full Retirement Age. *This option is only available if you were born before 1954. See the article referenced above for more details.
  • You cannot File & Suspend and file a Restricted Application at the same time. For some reason, many folks I hear from believe that in order to file a Restricted Application they must first File & Suspend. This is not true, if you File & Suspend you will not be eligible to file a Restricted Application. Read on for more details.
  • While technically allowed, there is very little accomplished if both spouses File & Suspend. Typically one spouse will File & Suspend and the other will file for Spousal Benefits based upon the first spouse’s record.
  • Only one member of a married couple can file a Restricted Application. The exception to this rule is for divorced spouses who remain unmarried – and are both over Full Retirement Age.
  • If you have filed for your own benefit prior to Full Retirement Age and are therefore receiving a reduced benefit by filing early, when you file for a Spousal Benefit you will never receive the full 50% of your spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount. This is due to the fact that the reduction to your own benefit from filing early continues to apply to your total benefit when the Spousal increase is added.
  • For every month after Full Retirement Age you delay filing for your own retirement benefit, you will accrue Delayed Retirement Credits, increasing your future retirement benefit when you file for it.
  • There is no increase to Spousal Benefits if the spouse delays filing for Spousal Benefits beyond his or her Full Retirement Age.
  • There is no increase to Survivor Benefits if the surviving spouse delays filing for the Survivor Benefit beyond his or her Full Retirement Age.


  1. Fred Stuppy says:

    I was born 9/20/50 and have not files ss My wile was born 12/03/51 can we still apply for spousal benefits?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Of course. Spousal benefits are available to anyone whose spouse has filed for his or her benefits. If the spousal benefit is something less than your own benefit, given the fact that you were born before 1954, you would be eligible (or your wife would be, but only one of you) for a restricted application once you have reached full retirement age, which is 66 for both of you.

  2. Skip Love says:

    I have an appointment with the local SS office on 12/21/15 to file and suspend (I was 66 in July), so that my wife can claim spousal benefits (she is 66 on Sept 19, 2016). Can she also go with me on 12/21 and file for her benefits for Sept, or is it too early to do that?

    1. jblankenship says:

      That’s probably a bit too early. They typically recommend applying 2-3 months in advance of your effective date.


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