Q & A
Ask Rusty – Restricted Application
Dear Rusty: I am 66 years of age and have not yet claimed Social Security because I want to wait until I’m 70 and get the higher benefit. My wife, who is 68, is already collecting her benefits having started when she reached her full retirement age. One of my friends said that he had filed something called a Restricted Application a few years ago and was collecting spousal benefits now, but when I called my local Social Security office they said that the Restricted Application was no longer available. It just irks me that my friend can do this but I can’t. Have the rules actually changed? Signed: Unhappy about changing rules.
Dear Unhappy: We get this question fairly often now since The Bipartisan Budget Act was signed into law in October of 2015. Under the old rules, if a person first filed for benefits on or after their full retirement age (FRA) and their spouse was already collecting benefits, they could file a Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits Only. That enabled a person whose partner was already collecting benefits to receive spousal benefits only, while allowing their own retirement benefit to accumulate Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs). DRCs accumulate up to age 70 when the filer can then collect up to 132% of their primary insurance amount, (or PIA – their benefit from their own work record at full retirement age). The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 broadened a rule called “deemed filing”, which states that whenever anyone applies for Social Security benefits they are deemed to be filing for all benefits they are entitled to, e.g., both their own retirement benefits and spousal benefits. The old rule said deemed filing applied only to those applying for benefits before their FRA; the new law broadened that rule to include all beneficiaries, effectively eliminating the Restricted Application for spousal benefits only. But there is an important exception which applies to you.
The new law broadening the “deemed filing” rule provided an exception for anyone who turned 62 years of age by the end of 2015 (actually by January 1, 2016 since they consider anyone born on the first of the month to be eligible for benefits in the previous month). Since you are now 66 and were born before 1954, you qualify for that exception and are therefore entitled to file a Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits Only, collect only spousal benefits based on your wife’s work record, and at the same time let your personal benefit from your own work record earn Delayed Retirement Credits. You can continue to earn DRC’s up to the time you reach 70 years of age, at which time you can file for benefits on your own work record and receive about 132% of your primary insurance amount. Further, at that time your wife who is already collecting benefits would be entitled to switch from her own benefit to a spousal benefit equal to ½ of your PIA, if that amount was higher than her own benefit. So you can see how, if you are still entitled to use it, the Restricted Application works well as a strategy for maximizing benefits. Used typically, the lower earning spouse files for retirement benefits first and the higher earning spouse files a restricted application for spousal benefits only. This allows the high-earning spouse’s benefit to grow as indicated, which would be especially important for your wife’s survivor’s benefits, should that be the case.
So it would appear that whoever you spoke with at the Social Security office was not aware of the exception I’ve cited above, which is why we always recommend you seek a second opinion when dealing with the Social Security Administration. Because you turned 62 before the end of 2015, you are definitely entitled to file a restricted application for spousal benefits only and allow your personal benefit to grow. If you don’t get that answer from someone in the Social Security office, ask to speak to a supervisor, or supervisors, until you find someone who knows about the exception. If you apply online, be sure to expressly state in your application that you are filing a “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits Only”.