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Restricted Application – the Definitive Guide

this fellow didn't file a restricted applicationMuch has been written and discussed regarding the option to file a Restricted Application for Social Security spousal benefits, but there are still many, many questions. This article is an attempt at covering all of the bases for you with regard to restricted application.

The topic of restricted application is so popular these days because it’s being eliminated as a result of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA15). In fact, if you were born on or after January 2, 1954, the changes to the rules have eliminated the option to file a restricted application for you altogether.

So – unless you were born on or before January 1, 1954, you might as well stop reading, because restricted application is not available to you. Period.

Restricted Application Rules

Okay, if you’re continuing to read, you (or your client, if you’re an advisor) must have been born early enough to be eligible for a restricted application. There are a few rules that you must be aware of for filing a restricted application:

  1. THERE IS NO DEADLINE FOR FILING A RESTRICTED APPLICATION OTHER THAN YOUR AGE 70. In other words, the upcoming deadline of April 30, 2016 has nothing to do with restricted application eligibility.
  2. You must be at or older than Full Retirement Age (FRA) to file a restricted application.
  3. You must not have filed for your own Social Security benefit previously. This includes File & Suspend.
  4. You may have previously received Social Security benefits as a young parent of a child under age 16, or as a child yourself under age 18. These benefits do not eliminate your eligibility for a restricted application.
  5. You cannot be actively receiving disability benefits. If you previously received disability benefits that were terminated some time in the past because the disability (or your eligibility) ceased, you may still be eligible for a restricted application.
  6. Your spouse must have filed for his or her own benefits. May also have suspended benefits, if the suspense was completed before April 30, 2016. But if the suspense was after April 30, 2016 you will not be eligible for spousal benefits until the suspense is lifted.
  7. If you are divorced and the divorce was finalized more than 2 years prior, your ex-spouse must only be at or older than 62 years of age, and is not required have filed for benefits. (*This is the exception to the rule in #6.)
  8. Only one member of a married couple may file a restricted application (doesn’t include ex-spouses).

Why Would You Want to File a Restricted Application?

A restricted application allows you to receive spousal benefits while delaying your own benefit, in order to accrue the delayed retirement credits (DRCs).

For example, Jeff and Cindy are both at FRA, age 66 this year. Jeff has filed for his benefits, in the amount of $2,000 per month. Cindy’s own benefit could be $900 if she filed now, but she wants to delay her benefit until age 70, when the DRCs will have increased her benefit to $1,188 (DRCs are 8% per year of delay).

Since Jeff has already filed for his benefit, and Cindy is at FRA in 2016 (therefore having been born before January 2, 1954), Cindy is eligible to file a restricted application for spousal benefits. She’ll receive a spousal benefit of $1,000 (50% of Jeff’s benefit at his age 66) and then her own benefit will accrue the DRCs since she has not filed for her own benefit.

For another example, Simon is 67 years of age and his wife Patty is 63 this year. Simon’s age 66 benefit would have been $1,500, and Patty’s would be $1,000. Patty has just retired from her job, and is filing for her own Social Security benefit. She’ll receive a reduced benefit in the amount of $800 since she filed early. Simon has not filed for Social Security benefits prior to this, as he intends to delay his filing until age 70.

Since Patty has filed for her own benefit and Simon is older than FRA in 2016 (therefore having been born before January 2, 1954), he is eligible to file a restricted application for spousal benefits. Simon will receive $500 per month for the coming three years, and then at age 70 he will file for his own benefit, which has increased to $1,980 with the DRCs.

So you can see, there may be much to be gained by filing a restricted application in the right circumstances.

How to File a Restricted Application

In order to accomplish the filing of a restricted application, you have four options to choose from. These options are listed below:

  1. Go to www.SocialSecurity.gov and apply using the online application. When you do this, fill out the application as if you will be receiving ordinary benefits, and there’s a question on the application which asks: If you are eligible for both retirement benefits and spouse’s benefits, do you want to delay receipt of retirement benefits? Answer this question “Yes”, and continue to complete the application. You have now filed a restricted application.
  2. You can file a paper application (Form SSA-1-BK is available online as well). Fill it out as if you were going to receive benefits, and then indicate in the REMARKS section “I want to restrict the scope of this application to spousal benefits only. I wish to delay filing for my own benefit to age 70.”
  3. Call 1-800-772-1213 to apply by phone. Tell the representative that you wish to file for benefits and restrict the application to spousal benefits only, and that you wish to delay filing for your own benefits to age 70 in order to earn the delay credits.
  4. Visit your local Social Security Administration office. Tell your representative that you wish to file for benefits and restrict the application to spousal benefits only, and that you wish to delay filing for your own benefits to age 70 in order to earn the delay credits.

That’s it. You don’t need to do anything else. It’s not necessary for your spouse to file & suspend (only to file), so the April 30, 2016 deadline for file & suspend doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with this.

And whoever is filing the restricted application definitely does not file & suspend – see the 3rd rule earlier in this article. File & suspend would actually derail your plan to file a restricted application.

55 Comments

  1. George Elkins says:

    I filled out a restricted applications using your instructions listed in this article. My wife had already filled out her application for her benefits a little earlier. Social security called me and said I should have filled out the application using my wife’s social security number and not mine. The man said he would fix it in the computer. He also said since my wife and I have been on Medicare for a year now my Medicare number would change over to my wife’s social security number and I would be getting a new medicare card. This would probably also affect my medigap policy. Does this sound right to you?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Yes, that sounds like your situation is being handled appropriately.

  2. lee says:

    In your second example in your article (about Simon and Patty): since Patty applies for her own reduced benefits at 63 rather than at 66, is she still qualified for applying for half of Simon’s benefits when Simon reaches 70? if she is, is it better for her to apply for her own benefits as early as at 62 rather than at 63 (suppose she retires at 62)?

    1. jblankenship says:

      I believe I answered this question in spirit on your other comment. Patty does not receive the full amount of the spousal benefit if she files earlier. The reduction for filing early follows her and will reduce her total future benefit.

  3. George Elkins says:

    In your article you state when filling out Form SSA-1-BK you should write in the remarks section “I wish to delay filing for my own benefit to age 70”, but on the Social Security website in section D.2 it states phrases such as plans to file in the future are not acceptable. What then should you write in the comments section?

    1. jblankenship says:

      “I am not filing for my own benefit at this time.”

  4. George Elkins says:

    I called my local Social Security office and no one there was familiar with the restricted application. After many phone calls they finally looked it up and said it was possible to do it. This left me concerned that they wouldn’t know what they were doing and very uncomfortable with trying this strategy. Any suggestions?

    1. jblankenship says:

      There’s only one Social Security Administration, it’s not like you can go to their competitor. As long as you are armed with knowledge and understanding, you should come out okay.

  5. Aubrey Howard says:

    Jim,

    Your articles are very helpful. How do we prevent Social Security from attempting to do a 6 month rollback of benefits when a restrictive application for my spouse is submitted online and the date that her full retirement age of 66 is reached is in August ?

    Thank you,

    Aubrey

    1. jblankenship says:

      If it’s a restricted application, benefits can’t be rolled back since she won’t be 66 until August. A restricted application is not valid prior to Full Retirement Age.

  6. Zamboangadon says:

    Great resource here, thank you! I’m not clear on how spousal benefits are calculated. If I and my spouse, both FRA, if she files and I file a restricted application, she’d collect her FRA amount which is approximately $1,000/month. How much would I receive as a spousal benefit? Is it ~ half that or $500/month? Then, when I reach age 70 and I file on my own I will get around $3,000/mo. At that time will she continue to receive just the $1,000/month she had under her own filing, or does she “step up” to: (a) half my FRA amount, or call it $1,300, or (b) half of my age 70 amount or roughly $1,500? or (c) none of the above? I apologize if this topic has been covered but I didn’t see it. Thanks

    1. jblankenship says:

      Answering your questions in order:
      You would be eligible for half of her FRA amount, or approximately $500 (this is to assume you were born before 1954 and therefore eligible for a restricted application).

      At your age 70 when you file for your own benefit, your wife would be eligible for an increase to half of your FRA amount, as you estimate it at $1,300. So of your multiple choices, it’s a).

  7. David Sutton says:

    Jim, I truly appreciate your helpful articles. I suspect I’m being repetitive, but I’d like to be absolutely sure of my earliest restricted application filing date. One of your answers says that someone can file a restricted application up to 3 months prior to their birthdate. Is this the case even if their spouse isn’t collecting yet? I will be 66 in mid November, a month after my wife turns 62 in mid October. She will file in July so that her benefit starts November 1 (first check arrives in December). What is the earliest date I can file a restricted application for spousal benefit? Can I do it (a) after my wife files and within 3 months of my birthday, (b) November 1, (c) my birthday in mid November, (d) December 1 or (e) something else? Thanks again!

    1. jblankenship says:

      If you’re filing a restricted application it won’t be accepted if it’s too early. So my suggestion is that you start 3 months before your birthday – and either go to the local SSA office or talk to them on the phone about it. If they reject it saying that it’s too early, your wife hasn’t started receiving benefits, then you know you’ll need to wait and try again later.

      There’s no downside to starting early since you can’t file a restricted application without all of the factors in place. Just make sure that you are, in fact, filing a restricted application and you should be okay.

  8. mpike says:

    Is the benefit amount of a restricted application 50% of the spouse’s gross or net benefit? Thank you.

    1. jblankenship says:

      A spousal benefit is at most 50% of the other spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). The PIA is the gross amount of benefit that the individual will receive if he or she files at exactly Full Retirement Age.

  9. PAMELA WOOLDRIDGE says:

    I am trying to file a restricted application online and cannot find the question you indicated “If you are eligible for both retirement benefits and spouse’s benefits, do you want to delay receipt of retirement benefits?” on the application. Am I in the wrong application?

    1. jblankenship says:

      It’s possible, or they may have changed the application since that option is going away. May need to phone them to do the restricted app.

      1. Stephen Dedalus says:

        This is a question about balancing the potentially increased long term SS payout, by filing a restricted application at FRA and delaying SS benefit until age 70, with the possibility that during the delay SS will be significantly changed, as a solution to pending insolvency.

        I am 2 months from FRA, and am having a hard time deciding whether to (1) file a restricted application now or (2) take FRA SS benefits. My wife, who is 7 months older than me started her benefit (much smaller than mine) at FRA. The breakeven point between these two strategies is my age 84y10m. In the second scenario, by the time I reach age 70 we would be $146K ahead. When I reach 90, scenario 1 would be $50K ahead.

        We are both healthy and have good genes. Our net worth is such that it is highly likely to outlast us. Because of investment earnings, traditional IRA Roth conversions and, eventually, RMDs, It is unlikely that our SS payments will ever escape a situation in which 85% are taxed at a rate of at least 25% (with today’s tax system). I can’t forsee a situation in which SS will be taxed less.

        The recent election has made it clear that there are growing numbers of wealth redistributionists in Washington. Considering that SS, in its present form, is approaching insolvency, I can’t avoid thinking that this may be a time when getting funds out of SS earlier may yield more in the long run than arranging the timing of payments so they are largest when we could need them the most.

        Your thoughts?

        1. jblankenship says:

          I think the answer is in your question – if you don’t need the benefit, it doesn’t matter when you take it. So you should take the benefit whenever will allow you to sleep at night.

          1. Stephen Dedalus says:

            Thanks, Jim. You have given a very practical answer to me, but – for the benefit of all of us following your blog – I was hoping that you might opine on the likelihood of future changes to both SS payments and the tax system, and how those changes might affect one’s calculations about whether or not to delay SS payments past FRA and the potential value of future payments.

          2. jblankenship says:

            My opinion on these matters is worth even less than the original answer I gave you.

            My opinion is that the rules are likely to change. How exactly is unknown and guesses are futile.

            My recommendation is to work with the rules as they stand today and just know that an uncooperative mortality (dying too soon or living too long) has as much if not more impact on your plans as a change to the rules.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    My husband and I fall under the old rules. He filed and suspended at FRA (before deadline). I just filed for spousal benefits to start at my FRA. SS suggested I file a restricted application, which I did. My first check will arrive in December.

    My husband will file for enhanced benefits at age 70 in 3 years. His benefits plus 50% of his FRA (my spousal benefits) will equal more than the maximum benefits allowed to be paid out on his record. My own PIA (even at age 70) will be less than 50% of my husbands benefit.

    Wouldn’t it have been better to have my spousal benefits based on my record and his record – assuming that would mean that only his portion of my spousal benefits would be added to his enhanced benefits in figuring out the family maximum?

    Thank you for your help. Haven’t been able to find this answer anywhere.

    1. Elizabeth says:

      I think I just answered my own question after reading through your site. Family Maximum appears to be based on my husbands PIA, not his deferred credits. In that case, we will be fine – I think his PIA plus spousal benefits (50% of PIA) are under his maximum limit. Is this still correct about how family maximums are figured?

      Thanks for all your good info on this site.

      1. jblankenship says:

        You’ve got it right – the maximum doesn’t consider your husband’s full benefit, only his PIA. With a husband/wife only on the record (no children or other dependents, for example) the family maximum will never come into play.

  11. Bill Spohn says:

    My wife has been getting her SS benefits since she turned 62, she is now 70. I will turn 66 in April 2017. I would like to file the restricted application. Based on your response to Bill Cason, I can file the application 3 months before my birthdate (April 20) so I could file my restricted application on January 20, 2017 in order to receive the benefit in April 2017. Is that correct?

    1. jblankenship says:

      That should work just fine. Just make sure that they know you are filing a restricted application for spousal benefits only, and your filing date is for April when you reach FRA.

  12. John says:

    I have a question on the calculation of the spousal benefit. It appears that it is not automatically 50% of the spouse’s FRA-PIA? My spouse intends to collect at 62. I was going to apply for spousal benefits at 66. Our PIA are pretty close(2100 vs 2300). Could you address this scenario? Thank you

    1. jblankenship says:

      IF 1) you were born before 1954;
      AND 2) your spouse has already filed for her benefits;
      AND 3) you have not filed for benefits previously;
      THEN upon reaching FRA (age 66) you can be eligible for a spousal benefit equal to 50% of your spouse’s PIA, provided that your spouse’s PIA has not been reduced by WEP and the spousal benefit is not subject to either GPO or the family maximum limit. (This is known as a restricted application.)

      If you were born after 1954, given that your own PIA is more than 50% of your spouse’s PIA, you would not be eligible for a spousal benefit due to deemed filing.
      If you were born before 1954 but your spouse has not already filed, you cannot receive the spousal benefit.
      If you were born before 1954 and your spouse has filed for her own benefit but you have also filed for your own benefit previously, you will not be eligible for a spousal benefit because your own PIA is more than 50% of your spouse’s PIA.

  13. Eileen G Fournier says:

    Thanks for explaining this distinction. My second husband filed and suspended at FRA in 2015 and at the same time filed for survivor benefits from his first wife who died three years earlier at age 61. We just want to make sure this has no impact on my ability to file a restricted application for a spousal benefit on his record when I reach FRA in 2017.

    Also, if my ex were to die before then, could I collect survivor benefits from his record? (We were married over ten years and I remarried after age 60 and he started receiving benefits at FRA.)

    Thanks for such clear explanations of fuzzy topics.

    1. jblankenship says:

      Your ex-husband’s filing status doesn’t have any impact on you as long as he’s at least age 62 and it has been 2 or more years since your divorce. The two year limit is eliminated because he filed and suspended, however. So you should be eligible to file a restricted application when you reach FRA in 2017 since you were born before 1954.

      If your ex passes away you should be eligible for a survivor benefit based on his record since you were not married to your current spouse prior to age 60.

  14. F Davis says:

    I’d like your input regarding our situation relative to a restricted application. I will turn 66 in December 2018 and my spouse will turn 64 in October in the same year. In January 2015, I retired and received social security until the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was enacted in November at which point I exercised my one-time “do-over” in December and withdrew my application and returned the monies I had received. Our plan is for me to file a restricted application for a spousal benefit when she retires at 64 and takes her social security. I will delay filing for my own benefit until I turn 70. We are both planning to apply in January 2019. Can you see any unforeseen issues or concerns with this strategy?

    1. jblankenship says:

      That strategy should work just fine. I don’t see any problems with it.

  15. Chris says:

    My mother (divorced) won’t be 66 until March 2017 and is losing her job, my father is already 66 and drawing his SS retirement. Can she start claiming his under a restricted application before she turns 66?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Please see number 2 in the article above. A restricted application requires that you are at or older than FRA.

      1. Chris says:

        Just making sure, she spoke to the social security office yesterday and they told her she could go ahead and it would be fine. From everything I had read I was sure they were wrong.

  16. Diane Dassow says:

    Thank you for this great information. What is the effect on the spousal benefit (restricted application) if the person receiving it continues to work and have earnings? Are there limits?

    1. jblankenship says:

      No – if you have filed a restricted application you must be at or older than Full Retirement Age. From FRA on, there is no income limit while receiving Social Security benefits.

  17. PAMELA WOOLDRIDGE says:

    My husband and I both turn FRA (66) this year and have nearly equal estimated social security benefits ($3150 each). We both intend to work until after 70 but my husbands income will grow faster than mine in the future. We are interested in the restricted application and have questions. What factors should we consider in deciding who takes the spousal benefit? Does the person not claiming the spousal benefit give up their ability to maximize their benefit between 66 and 70?At age 70, we would claim our individual benefits but, if one of us is at their age 66 benefit level and dies last, are we giving up benefits in the future?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Under the new rules, one spouse must be actively receiving benefits in order for the other to claim spousal benefits (in your case, via a restricted application). Since the first spouse is receiving benefits based on his or her own record, there are no delay credits accruing for that person.

      In your case, since your husband’s earnings are expected to continue increasing his benefit, it might make good sense for you to file for your own benefit at age 66, and your husband file a restricted application for spousal benefits only. Then at his age 70 he would file for his delay-credit-enhanced benefit. Your benefit would remain the same (minor increases if your earnings age 66-70 are higher than some earlier earnings) as it was at age 66 (plus any annual COLAs). If your husband dies first, you would assume his benefit as a survivor’s benefit and your own would cease.

      Alternatively you could reverse these roles and the likely outcome would be pretty close to the same. I only recommended your husband to delay benefits because you said his income would increase the most.

      The only other alternative is for both of you to delay benefits to age 70 – but then you miss out on the spousal benefit altogether.

  18. kathy says:

    Thanks so much, this is great information, have read dozens of articles on this topic this one is the best by far.

  19. Aubrey Howard says:

    Jim,

    A question about the online application when filing a restricted application. The application only allows a month/year selection for when you want to start receiving social security benefits. Do you put down the month/year when you turn 66 or do you put down the next month/year after you turn 66? Does it matter on which day of the month that your birthday occurs when deciding which month to start your benefits?

    Thanks,

    Aubrey

    1. jblankenship says:

      You’d use the month/year that you’ll reach age 66. Day of the month doesn’t matter, unless you were born on the 1st of the month, in which case the prior month is considered to be the first month that you are age 66.

  20. Paul Williams says:

    My wife retired at age 62 and has been receiving a retirement benefit of $1,076.95 per month. She was born in July 1950. I retired in June 2015 and was born in July 1949. I retired from the Federal Government and am subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision. I have over 40 quarters in the system prior to going to work for the Government. At the age of 70 my expected benefit would be $1,261.00 per month prior to any WEP reduction. If I file a restricted application for spousal benefits only, will the benefit be subject to WEP? My wife will still be able to collect her full benefit of $1,076.95 per month correct?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Spousal benefits are subject to GPO, not WEP. GPO (Government Pension Offset) hits harder in most cases: the spousal benefit will be reduced by 2/3 of the pension you’re receiving from the government job, which can completely wipe out the spousal benefit altogether.

      Your wife’s own benefit will not be affected by any of this.

  21. Tom Cannon says:

    Great information, but of course I have a little different scenario. My wife has already filed and just started receiving SS benefits. I will not be FRA for two more years. My benefit will be approximately 30% higher than hers. Do you see any way we can use File and Suspend and Restrict stategy to our advantage? Tks.

    1. jblankenship says:

      The only thing you might consider is for you to file a restricted application when you reach FRA (age 66). File & suspend is not available to you, and since your wife has already filed, neither file & suspend nor restricted application is available to her.

      1. Tom Cannon says:

        Jim, even though my wife has filed and activated her account, can’t she still suspend? Also, what would be the purpose of my filing a restricted application when I reach FRA? Would my wife then claim spousal benefits? Thanks

        1. jblankenship says:

          Sure, she could suspend, and wait as long as she wishes (up to age 70) to eventually re-file for benefits (unsuspend). What would you hope to accomplish with that action? She could also withdraw her application and pay back all benefits received to date if it’s been less than a year since she started receiving benefits. This would open up some additional options for her.

          If you filed a restricted application for spousal benefits when you reached FRA, you (YOU, not your wife) would receive spousal benefits, delaying your own benefit to some later date.

          1. Tom Cannon says:

            Jim, wouldn’t my wife be able to grow her SS benefit by 8%/yr by suspending her account now? As for me, wouldn’t my ability to file a restricted application for spousal benefits be eliminated after April 29, 2016? Thanks.

          2. jblankenship says:

            Yes, she could do that. In your original question you asked about file & suspend – and I answered that you do not have that option, because you are too young and your wife has already filed.

            Suspending after the fact is something different – and if you intend to file a restricted application and your wife intends to suspend her benefits, she must do so before April 30, 2016. Otherwise if she suspends her benefits you will not be eligible to file a restricted application until she un-suspends.

            Regarding your last question, please see #1 in the article above.

      2. Tom Cannon says:

        Jim, so my wife does nothing to her account and continues to recieve her SS benefits. When I reach FRA I file a restricted appliation for spousal benefits and receive 1/2 her benefits? Would that last until she reaches age 70? So for approximately 2 years? Then I would either suspend my account or begin recieving benefits at 16% higher than what was avaliable at FRA? Thanks.

        1. jblankenship says:

          Yes, you can file a restricted application when you reach FRA, based on the fact that your wife has already filed and you were born before 1954.

          You can receive the spousal benefit by itself (restricted application) until as late as your age 70, at which point your own benefit will be maximized (the maximum delay delay credits have been earned). After you’ve filed the restricted application you could file for your own benefit at any time thereafter, earning 8% for each year of delay. In other words, you aren’t required to wait until age 70, nor are you required to file when your wife reaches her age 70.

  22. Bill Cason says:

    Thanks so much for writing this up. It is the perfect compliment to your previous post about the File and Spend process — Everything You Need to Know About File & Suspend and the April 30 Deadline.

    I have already filed and speeded — all is good there.. My wife turns 66 in late July of this year. The question in my mind is “WHEN” should she file her restricted application to insure her FRA is in effect for earning the delayed credits until age 70? My concern is a premature filing could ruin the strategy and a too late filing will leave money on the table.

    Much thanks again for the great work.

    Bill

    1. jblankenship says:

      She should file the restricted application effective in the month she reaches FRA. She can file this application up to 3 months prior to her birthdate.

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