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Restricted Application in 2018

You could use a machine like this to strategize your Social Security benefits filing, or you could use a restricted application.In 2018, folks who are reaching that magical age of 66, which is Full Retirement Age (or FRA, in SSA parlance), may have some decisions to make. This is especially true for married couples, or folks who were married before and are now divorced. The restricted application still applies if you were born before 1954.

Because reaching age 66 in 2018 means you were born in 1952, you are still in line for some special benefits. When the rules changed in 2015, Congress grandfathered some special options to you and your contemporaries born before 1954.

Being born before 1954 gives you the unique privilege to use the “restricted application” option when filing for benefits. (For more details on restricted application, see this article.)

This means that, if you are married to someone who also has a Social Security retirement benefit coming to them, you can (as of age 66) start taking a Spousal Benefit while delaying your own benefit to a later date. (The same applies to an unmarried divorcee who was married for at least 10 years to someone who has a Social Security benefit available.)

Restricted Application in practice

For example, Kelly and James are looking at their options for Social Security benefits. Kelly, who will reach FRA in 2018, has a potential Social Security retirement benefit of $2,000 per month available to her if she files for benefits this year. James, who worked in jobs with lower salary through his career, could have a benefit of $1,500 if he waits until he reaches his FRA in two years (he was born in 1954).

The specific set of circumstances places Kelly and James at a decision-point. Since Kelly was born before 1954, she has the option of using the restricted application – but she can’t file that application until James has filed for his own retirement benefit. Originally, they had intended for both of them to delay filing to age 70, to achieve the greatest benefit for each.

However, with the restricted application available to her, Kelly and James can put a different spin on the process. If James was to file for his own benefits in 2018 (since he’s only going to be 64 this year), he would receive a total benefit of $1,300 per month. But also, now that he’s filed, Kelly can put in a restricted application for Spousal Benefits only – which would net her $750 per month. She is still allowed to delay her own benefit up to age 70, even though she’s receiving the Spousal Benefit.

This will provide the couple with a total benefit of $2,050 per month for the coming 4 years. Then, when Kelly files for her benefit at age 70, she’ll get the full delay credits, 32%, added to her Primary Insurance Amount of $2,000. This will up her benefit to $2,640 in total, which, when added to James’ $1,300, gives the couple a total benefit of $3,940. (Given the amount of James’ PIA at $1,500, he is not eligible for a Spousal Benefit when Kelly files for her own benefit. If his PIA was something less than half of Kelly’s PIA at $2,000, he could receive an additional benefit upon her filing.)

This is less than the total benefit amount that they would have started receiving at age 70 if they had both delayed. That would have come to $4,620, because James’ benefit could have been enhanced by the delay credits to a total of $1,980.

But by using the restricted application strategy, they will receive benefits of more than $98,000 in the intervening 4 years. This works out to 12 years’ worth of the delay credits on James’ benefit – so their break-even point would be at Kelly’s age 82, James’ age 80.

Plus, regardless of the fact that he filed for his own benefit early, if Kelly dies first, James will be eligible to receive Kelly’s enhanced benefit in place of his own as a Survivor Benefit.

As with all Social Security strategies, it pays to know how it all works, in the context of your own situation. The above is just one example of how knowing the rules can make a big difference in the outcome for some folks.


  1. Ellen says:

    Hi Jim. Does SSA recognize common law marriage? My fiancé of 19 years income is hire than mine but he was born in 59 and I reached FRA in dec 18,wondering if i file restricted can I collect from his benefits even though he can’t file yet? I think I e read too many scenarios and now confused.

    Also since I am past my FRA (only a few months). When I apply should I ask to start my benefits from 12/18 the month I reached FRA?

    Thank you very muchly

    1. jblankenship says:

      Generally, if the state statute recognizes a common-law marriage, SSA will as well. You’ll need to know what the state’s opinion is in order to move forward with that.

      However, regarding your question, you could not receive benefits based on your fiance’ (even if a common-law marriage is deemed to exist) if he is not actively receiving benefits from SSA. So your idea of filing a restricted application will not work.

      Regarding filing for your own benefits: you can request a retroactive filing up to 6 months prior to the current date when you file. Whether or not that’s a good idea would require some analysis of the numbers. Generally speaking, it’s most often better to take the slight increase in benefits rather than retroactively filing for a smaller benefit going forward.

  2. Steve Jacobs says:

    I am 66 born in 1953 PIA of $2352
    Wife was is 62 born in 1956 PIA of $1107
    Is the below a viable option.
    My wife files for her own SS now.
    I then file a Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits only.
    When I turn 70 I go over to my SS.
    When my wife turns 66 and 4 months can she then switch over to either
    1/2 of my PIA? Or can she bump up to her PIA. Or is she limited to the $$$
    She took at age 62?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Yes, that’s a viable option, however – when your wife files at age 62 she’ll get a reduced benefit of approximately $830 (reduction of approximately $277). When you file for your own benefit at age 70, your wife will be eligible for the 50% spousal benefit, but it will be 50% of your PIA ($2,352 / 2 = $1,176) MINUS the $277 reduction for filing early. So her total benefit will be bumped up to approximately $899.

      I’m saying these figures are approximate because if your wife is 62 already, her benefit will be something slightly more than the $830 I calculated (since she’s a few months past age 62).

  3. Amanda says:

    My husband (68) and I (66) have both reached full retirement age. My husband plans to continue working until he is 70.

    1) Am I allowed to claim my own Social Security benefits now (approximately $520 per month) and then switch over to spousal benefits when my husband retires in 2 years (50% of his benefits would be approximately $1,300 per month)?

    2) If I am allowed, can he claim 50% of my benefits now (approximately $260 per month) and then switch to his own benefits in 2 years when he retires (approximately $3,500 per month)?


    Can I file a restricted application and just claim 50% of his benefits now? And he will collect his own benefits in 2 years?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Your first two items are doable. That is, you can file for your own benefit now, and your husband can file a restricted application for 50% of your benefit. Then, when he reaches age 70 and files, he’ll jump up to the $3,500 per month figure, and you can file a spousal benefit application to bump your benefit up to the roughly $1,300 level.

      The second part (after your OR) is not possible. He’d have to file for his own benefit now in order for you to file a restricted application. That would reduce his benefit down to approximately $3,000.

  4. Victoria says:

    My husband started his SS benefits at age 67. I will be filing a restricted claim for spousal benefits next month; I will be age 66 and 9 months. Will my spousal benefit be 50% of his increased amount due to him not filing until age 76 or will it be based on what he would have gotten if he had filed at age 66 (FRA)?
    Thank you for a great website, do you provide a wonderful service.

    1. jblankenship says:

      Spousal benefit is based on the amount your husband would have received if he had filed for benefits at his age 66. It is not based on the increased amount from his delayed filing.

  5. Carol Sbordon says:

    My husband and I are both at FRA, age 66. We are interested in using the Restricted Application for SS benefits. My benefits are $1270 and my husband’s are $1758 if we took them right now. I was thinking of taking my benefits and then have my husband file the restricted application for spousal benefits. He would then take his benefits at age 70. Would it be possible for me to then take 1/2 of his benefits at age 70, (a spousal benefit)? And would this be a better scenario than us both waiting until age 70?

    1. jblankenship says:

      50% of your husband’s FRA benefit is less than your FRA benefit. There would be no point in you applying for spousal benefits since you will have already filed for your own benefit, enabling your husband to file the restricted application. Only one of you can take advantage of the restricted application.

      1. Carol Sbordon says:

        Thank you for your advice! I made a mistake on my husband’s SS benefit amount however, it is $2758, not $1758 at age 66. When my husband retires at age 70, could I claim half of his higher benefit at that time if I took my benefits at age 66 and my husband took a spousal benefit? You mentioned that only one of us can take advantage of the restricted application. Is it one of us at a time or one of us in the entire process? Thank you in advance for your answer.

        1. jblankenship says:

          If your husband’s FRA benefit is $2,758, 50% of that would be $1,379, which is more than your benefit of $1,270. When your husband files for his benefit at age 70, you should receive the spousal portion, an increase of $109/month (plus COLAs).

          The rule is that, in order to file a restricted application for spousal benefits you must not have filed for another retirement benefit previously. Also, your spouse must have filed for his or her own retirement benefit to enable spousal benefits. Therefore, if one spouse has taken advantage of the restricted application, the other cannot, because he or she must have filed for his or her own benefit to enable the restricted application for the first.

          In your case, for your husband to file a restricted application, you must file for your own retirement benefit, and he cannot file for any other retirement benefit before the restricted application. Then, when he does file for his own retirement benefit, you cannot file a restricted application since you already filed for your own retirement benefit. It’s a moot point, because you can still file for spousal benefits once he’s filed for his own retirement benefit, so you’re getting the 50% amount of his FRA benefit at that point no matter what.

  6. Jo Laureen says:

    My husband was born in 1953 and reaches his FRA next month at 66 and he has been self-employed and so has only PIA of 622. I was born in 1959 and have the larger earning, PIA of 1830.00. I’m confused on the “restricted application”. Should I file early so he can get %50 of my benefits sooner?

    1. jblankenship says:

      You could file as early as age 62 in order to enable spousal benefits for your husband – that would be in 2021. A restricted application doesn’t make any sense for your husband because his own benefit will never grow to an amount greater than 50% of your PIA. The maximum delay credits of 32% added to his $622 benefit only calculates to $821 – less than $915, his possible spousal benefit. So don’t bother yourself wondering about restricted application.

      Looking at the numbers, he could start benefits at his FRA in the amount of $622/month. Then at some point in the future, whenever you decide to file for your own benefit, he’d be eligible for the increase to the $915 level.

      If you file early at age 62 your benefit would be permanently reduced to $1,296 per month. However, there would be an increase of $293 in your husband’s spousal benefit at that time, so your total household benefit would be $2,211.

      Where I see a problem is that you’re 6 years younger, and (by actuarial estimates) expected to outlive your husband, possibly for a very long time. If he dies before you, your income will be reduced to the $1,296 figure. Whereas, if you wait until at least your FRA, you’d get the $1,830 amount for your lifetime. If you delay past FRA, that $1,830 would increase, to as much as $2,269 by your age 70.

      Of course, if you’re in a position where you need the cash to pay month-to-month expenses, you might have to file early and take your chances. It’s a tough choice to have to make, but it’s reality.

      Just a few things to consider.

  7. Steve says:

    Hi Jim, thanks so much for sharing such knowledge with us. My wife is 68 and has been receiving SS since age 62. Her PIA was $1,800. I turn 66 in March 2019 and plan to file for a Spousal Benefit on my wifes record, and allow my benefit to acrue the DRC until age 70. My PIA is $2,369. When I begin collecting my benefit at 70, can my wife file for a “Spousal” benefit? If so, approximately how much would it amount to? Thanks, Steve

    1. jblankenship says:

      Your wife’s PIA is more than the spousal benefit. The spousal benefit is, at maximum, 50% of your PIA, which would be $1,184.50. So she is not eligible for a spousal benefit since she’s been collecting her own, which is based on a higher PIA than the spousal benefit.

    2. Steve says:

      Hi Jim, I just picked up your revised 4th edition book and have enjoyed the new material and examples. My cousin is coming over our home to discuss benefits. He will be turning 66 in Feb. 2019. His wife will not turn 66 until Nov. 2020. If my cousin’s wife signs up in Feb. 2019 and begins collecting early benefits, can he sign up in Feb. 2019 and file a restricted application for a spousal benefit of 50% based on his wife’s PIA, while letting his own account acrue the DRC?

      1. jblankenship says:

        Thanks for your kind words regarding the book, I’m happy to hear it’s useful for you!

        Regarding your cousin, you have it right – he should be able to file a restricted application at his FRA, if his wife has already filed for her (in this case) reduced benefit. His own benefit will accrue the delay credits until he files for his own benefit.

  8. Nick says:

    One spouse is 68 and a disabled spouse is 59, would the 68 year old be eligible to file a restricted application on the disability benefit currently received by the 59 year old disabled spouse? SSA references the age of 62 but it is unclear if the 62 minimum age applies to the disabled spouse (59) or the non disabled spouse (68).

    1. jblankenship says:

      I believe that the disabled spouse must be at least age 62 before the non-disabled spouse can receive spousal benefits (including a restricted application).

  9. I just turned 66 and have not started SS. I planned to wait until I was 70. My wife is 61 and we were going to try to wait until she’s 70 also. It sounds like I can have her file for SS when she is 62 (next spring) and collect 50% of her benefit. Is that correct?

    Thanks Jim!!

    1. jblankenship says:

      Yes, that strategy is just fine, you should be able to execute it with no problems.

  10. Alan says:

    My wife and I are 66, so we can take advantage of the restricted benefits strategy. She retires next month at 66. I plan to keep working until 68, and want to restrict the scope of my application so I receive 1/2 of my wife’s benefits until then. Every single article I’ve read mentions that I can keep working until age 70 and never mentions switching to full benefits before that age. Is this something I can do?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Yes, you can switch to your own benefit at any time. The articles probably only mention waiting to age 70 because that’s the longest you should delay – there’s no increase if you delay past that point. There may be other reasons to delay past that point, or to begin before age 70.

      1. Alan says:

        Thank you! One other question before I fill out that form: My wife has already filled out her application to take effect when she turns 66 on August 23. Should I ask for my benefits to begin in August or September?

        1. jblankenship says:

          You are eligible to receive the spousal benefit as soon as your wife is receiving her own benefit. So if hers is beginning in August, your spousal benefit can begin then as well.

  11. Lisa says:

    Do I understand correctly that if I was born in 1955 I would not be eligible to collect SS benefits from my ex-spouse?

    1. jblankenship says:

      No, that is not correct. By being born in or after 1954, you are not eligible to file a restricted application for spousal benefits only. You can still collect spousal benefits from your ex-spouse, as long as the spousal benefit is something more than your own benefit. If your own benefit is greater than the spousal benefit, you can only collect the larger of the two.

  12. Earl says:

    Hi Jim-

    I’ll reach 66 this December (2018) with a PIA of ~$1500/mo. My wife turns 66 next April (2019) with a PIA of ~$2000/mo. Am I correct that: 1- either one of us (but only one) could file a restricted application for 50% spousal benefit, and 2- that the other who does not file a restricted application can file and receive their full benefit? And if that’s the case I simply need to determine which scenario provides not only the most beneficial income flow now, but also which provides the shortest break-even time.

    Thanks for the article. Best explanation I’ve been able to find!

    1. jblankenship says:

      Since you were both born before 1954, you are correct. You both have the option of restricted application for spousal benefits; however only one of you can use that option and the other must file for his or her own benefit to enable it. Most likely the best alternative would be for you to file for your benefit and your wife to file the restricted application for spousal benefits when she reaches FRA in April. This way the larger benefit will accrue the delay credits ($640 in delay credits versus $480).

  13. Jeff says:

    Hello Jim,

    Not sure where to pose this question so putting it here.
    I filed and suspended and met the deadline. My wife is receiving half of my social security benefit since that time. She was free of any health ailments at the time.

    Recently, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
    I called social security and they said she cannot apply for social security disability as she is full retirement age and receiving regular social security.

    Have you run across this scenario before? Is social security correct in what answer they have given?

    Thanks, Jim, for your expertise.

    1. jblankenship says:

      Yes, that’s the way it’s handled. At Full Retirement Age, any disability benefit is automatically converted to retirement benefits. After FRA, you can’t apply for disability benefits, only retirement benefits.

  14. linda says:

    My husband’s PIA is 980 (born 10/57) and mine 2400 (born 2/1962). So we have no such options—our plan is for him to start early on his own record then apply for spousal benefit when I file for my delayed SS at 70 years old, right?
    My question is should he file at 62 or FRA at 66 1/2? every SS calculations says filing at his FRA have maximized life time amount–Which I don’t quite understand: since he will file for spousal benefit later anyway, shouldn’t he file as early as possible? what is the drawback of filing reduced benefit at 62?

    1. jblankenship says:

      The drawback to your husband’s filing at age 62 is that his benefit will be reduced by approximately $270. So he’d receive roughly $710 per month at age 62, and then once you’ve filed at age 70 (when he is 75) he will be eligible for a benefit of approximately $930 (the original $1,200, half of your PIA, minus $270). Otherwise, if he waits until FRA, he’d get the full $980 and then step up to $1,200 once you’ve filed. You’d need to run the numbers to see if it would be more beneficial to start earlier and receive 4 1/2 years more benefits at the lower rate.

      1. Linda chen says:

        hi, Jim:
        I didn’t realized there’s the reduction of $270 out of half of my PIA as a “penalty” for earlier claim at 62! Thanks for solving this mystery.

        I just want to make sure the above mentioned plan is the only way for us to maximize our SS, right? I can no longer applying for restricted application for spousal benefit on husband’s record at my FRA while delaying mine to 70, since we’re born after 1954, right?

        1. jblankenship says:

          That’s correct, restricted application for spousal benefits is no longer available if you were born in or after 1954.

  15. Lloyd St. Clair says:

    I am going through this process with SSA and I have been told that when my wife applies for her own retirement benefit at age 62 (now) she must receive her maximum benefit (SSA term) which is her retirement benefit ($666) plus her spousal benefit ($242) from my earnings. I was also told that she cannot then apply for her spousal benefit ($1256) at her FRA. Our plan included me filing a restricted application for spousal benefits on her retirement benefit asap before the SSA threw this apparent hiccup at us today. Thanks for any help.

    1. jblankenship says:

      If you have not filed for your benefits, your wife is not eligible (nor required) to file for spousal benefits.

      So if you’re over your FRA now (and thus born in 1953 or before), you can file the restricted application once your wife has filed for her benefits.

      Then later, when you file for your own benefit, your wife will be required to take the spousal “add-on” amount, which would be unreduced.

      However, if you’ve already filed for your own benefit, the information you received from SSA (and described here) will be true.

  16. Dave Swart says:

    My wife and I will be at or above FRA in May. She does not qualify for SS benefits. I do and would like to have her get my spousal benefits and I suspend until age 70. Is this not allowed anymore? I can not get a clear decision and SS admin says when I suspend it will also suspend her.

    1. jblankenship says:

      Unfortunately you cannot file and suspend to provide your wife with benefits while you delay your own. This option went away at the end of April, 2016.

      1. Dave Swart says:

        Thank you for the clarification.

  17. Rob says:

    Thanks, Jim, for providing clear information that’s difficult to find anywhere else. My wife and I are considering the restricted application plan, since she was born in 1953 and I was born in 1956. I tried calculating a break even point for us which compares the restricted application plan versus both of us waiting until age 70, and I found a later point than you did in the example above (ages 88 and 85 for us).

    I used your figures with Kelly and James, and came up with the year 2040 when both of your amounts became equal. Is it possible you overlooked the fact that when Kelly turns 70 in 2022, James will only be 68, and if he waits until age 70, he will not collect anything for 2 more years? You say the amount they would collect for 4 years amounts to 12 years of credits they would gain by waiting until 70, but isn’t this only true if they are both the same age and begin collecting at the same time? Am I considering this correctly?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Break-even analysis can be confusing. It depends on what you’re looking at for break-even. My calculation was based solely on the differential between James’ early benefit ($1,300) and his late-filing benefit ($1,980), which would be $680. If he files early and Kelly files the restricted app, they receive $98,000 during those years up to age 70. Dividing the $98k by $680, you come up with 12 years (approximately).

  18. ron manuel says:

    Several years ago I corresponded with William Reichenstein and Bill Meyer about whether there were any circumstances where both spouses could get spousal benefits. They said no. So I think this phrase is incorrect: “If his PIA was something less than half of Kelly’s PIA at $2,000, he could receive an additional benefit upon her filing.)”

    1. jblankenship says:

      The phrase is correct as written.

      I suspect that the reason Reichenstein and Meyer replied as they did may have to do with the way the question is asked. If the question is “Are there any circumstances where both spouses could get spousal benefits at the same time?” – then the answer is no. However, in the example cited, both spouses, at different times, are allowed to receive spousal benefits.

  19. ron manuel says:

    I thought the spousal was half of what the other spouse was getting. In the example, does Kelly get $750 (half of James FRA $1500) or does she get half of his actual $1300 since he is not waiting until FRA?

    1. jblankenship says:

      Spousal benefit is always based on the PIA of the other spouse, regardless of when the other spouse filed. So in the example, Kelly receives $750, half of James’ PIA (the amount he would receive if he delayed to FRA).

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