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Can Both Spouses File and Suspend?

portrait of C. A. Rosetti

portrait of C. A. Rosetti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

This question continues to come up in my interactions with readers, so I thought I’d run through some more examples to illustrate the options and issues.  The question is:

Can both spouses file and suspend upon reaching Full Retirement Age, and collect the Spousal Benefit on the other spouse’s record, allowing our own benefit(s) to increase to age 70?

Regarding file & suspend and taking spousal benefits, although technically both of you could file and suspend at the same time, only one of you *might* receive spousal benefits at that point. The reason is that once you file (regardless of whether you suspend) the spousal benefit is then limited to the amount over and above your own Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), up to 50% of your spouse’s PIA. (Remember, PIA is the amount of benefit that you would receive at exactly Full Retirement Age.)

For example, if you and your wife have PIAs of $2000 and $800 respectively and you both file and suspend, your wife could file for spousal benefits of $200 (half of your PIA minus her PIA equals $200). However, you would not be eligible for a spousal benefit since half of your wife’s PIA minus your PIA is a negative number.

Now, if we change the numbers so that you have a PIA of $2,000 and your wife’s PIA is $1,200 and both of you file and suspend, neither of you would be eligible for a spousal benefit. Half of either of your PIA’s is less than the PIA of the other, so no spousal benefit is available if both file and suspend at the same time.

Typically this works out best if only one spouse files and suspends, usually the one with the greater PIA, and the other spouse files a restricted application for spousal benefits only. Using my first example numbers, if you filed and suspended and your wife filed a restricted application for spousal benefits only, she would be eligible for a $1,000 spousal benefit, and both of your own benefits would accrue Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) up to age 70. At that point, again, using the first example numbers, you would be eligible for a benefit of $2,640, and she would be eligible for a benefit of $1,056.

Another way this could be done would be for your wife (again, working with the first numbers) to file for her own benefit at Full Retirement Age, receiving $800 per month.  Then you could file a restricted application for spousal benefits only, and receive half of her PIA, or $400 per month.  You’d continue to receive this for four years until you reach age 70, at which point you would file for your own benefit, enhanced by the DRCs to $2,640.  At this point your wife could file for spousal benefits, increasing her own benefit to half of your PIA, or $1,000.  This second option actually gives you more money over the four-year span from FRA to age 70, but your wife’s benefit would be limited to a maximum of $1,000 (rather than $1,056) for her lifetime or yours, whichever is shorter.

At any rate, hopefully this resolves the question once and for all – while technically both spouses can file and suspend at the same time, there’s not a lot of reason to do so as the spousal benefits would only be available to one of them, at most.

If you have other situations that you’d like to review, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer promptly.

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  1. Suzanne Rossi says:

    Thank you for all of the detailed examples, but we are still one of those couples who could use your insight as to the most beneficial strategy. My wife is 63 and at her FRA her benefit = $1000. I am 62 and at my FRA my benefit = $2400. Do we both file and restrict to collect 50% of each other’s benefit ASAP? As I read articles this option goes away after April 30, 2016 .. And if we delay our benefit is treated differently under the new rules! I’m not clear who should file restricted first.. Or if above question is possible. We would like to collect now what we can then when each of us reach 66 we can file and suspend until 70. Is this incorrect?Would you advise our best options? If we file restricted Is there a negative effect our benefit at FRA? Finally, at FRA, do we refile to change status to suspend until 70 so both benefits accrue the interest. We appreciate the clarification.

    1. jblankenship says:

      First of all – you cannot file a restricted application prior to reaching your Full Retirement Age, which is age 66 for both of you. So that option is off the table at the present.

      Secondly – only one of you can file a restricted application at a time. The other of you must have filed for benefits and (after the change to the rules) that member of the couple must be currently receiving benefits in order for the other member of the couple to receive restricted benefits.

      So – one of you could file for benefits at any time, and then when the other reaches age 66 he or she could file a restricted application to receive 50% of the other’s benefit. In your case it could work like this: your wife could file now (or at any time up to your age 66) and begin receiving benefits based on her record. Then at your age 66, you could file a restricted application and receive 50% of her unreduced benefit. Then at your age 70 you could file for the maximized benefit. Plus at that point your wife might be eligible for a slight increase to her benefit as a spousal benefit.

      You could do this exactly the opposite way as well. So you could file for your benefit at any time, and when your wife reaches FRA (if you have filed by then) she could file a restricted application to receive 50% of your benefit. Then at her age 70 she could file for her own maximized benefit.

      Only one of these is available, not both. On the other hand, you could both file for your own benefits at any time, and leave out the option for restricted spousal benefits altogether.


  2. Brian says:

    Thanks for the quick response. Sorry about the incorrect terminology on my part. I also had the early retirement amount incorrect for my wife. Her PIA is 1,526 and at 62 she is entitled to 1,144.
    So if she suspends at FRA she would not get a spouse benefit since 1/2 of my benefit is less than her PIA? Is she entitled to anything during those years. She will not be collecting anything from her SS while it is suspended between FRA and 70. Can you confirm she will get $0 during those years?


    1. jblankenship says:

      Yes that is correct, if you implement the strategy you’ve outlined, she would not receive a benefit during those years.

      Did you follow what I was talking about re: the restricted application for you, beginning at your FRA (if your wife has filed)?


  3. Brian says:

    Hi will this work:
    4 year age difference. Wife files early at 62. She would get around 750. She would not be deemed as filing for spousal benefit since I have not filed. After she files I file for a spousal benefit which would be half of her FRA of 1,526. My amount will continue to grow till I file at age 70. After I file at 70, my wife suspends her SS benefit and then files for spousal benefits against my SS. My FRA is 2,500. At 70 she starts colecting an increased amount. Assuming the increased amount would be her early amount (750) increased by 24%.

    Is this possible?


    1. jblankenship says:

      Brian, I have a few questions about your example. First of all, if your wife’s benefit at FRA is $1,526 then her age 62 benefit would be 75% of that amount, or $1,144.50. Regardless of that, if you’ve talked to SS and found that her benefit at age 62 would be $750, then that’s the operative figure to use.

      The second question is with regard to your wife suspending her benefit at FRA. Since she has already filed, the only Spousal Benefit she would receive is the difference between her PIA amount and half of your PIA amount. If you’re right that her PIA (you’re referring to it as your FRA) is $1,526 then subtracting that amount from half of your PIA would result in a negative amount ($2,500/2 = $1,250 minus $1,526 = -$276). So if she suspends, she will no longer receive a benefit until she re-files (or un-suspends).

      Now, if her PIA is actually $1,000 and therefore her age 62 benefit is $750, then when you file for your benefits she would be eligible to suspend her own benefit and receive the spousal increase only – amounting to $250 per month ($2,500/2 = $1,250 minus $1,000 = $250).

      Other than that matter, your strategy is a workable option but you’re leaving out one valuable benefit: the restricted spousal benefit for you. When your wife files for her benefit and you’re over FRA (age 66) you can file a restricted application for spousal benefits only, which would result in 50% of her PIA (either $1,526/2 or $1,000/2, whichever is her correct PIA). You can receive this up until you file for your own benefit at age 70, and your benefit will have grown by 32% by that point.

      Let me know if this has just raised more questions for you!


      1. Brian says:

        Thanks for clearing that up. I will definitely file for a spousal benefit at my FRA. I understand your math that shows my wife would not be entitled to a spousal benefit ($2,500/2 = $1,250 minus $1,526 = -$276) but have a question on this. I don’t understand why she would not get a benefit. She will not be collecting her own SS at that time since it is suspended. So shouldn’t he benefit be $1,250 – $0 = $1,250 or is this not allowed?


        1. jblankenship says:

          Hi Brian –

          See the follow-on article Can Both Spouses File a Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits Only? for a complete explanation.

          Briefly, since she has filed (even though she has suspended) the equation will always take her PIA into account, so $1,250 minus $1,526 is negative.

          Hopefully the additional article will help to clear this up for you.


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