What the New Social Security Rules Mean To You

Susan A. McCants Wealth Planning

The new Social Security law that passed late last year, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, helped buoy the Social Security system by eliminating two claiming methods: 1) the “restricted” application, and 2) the “file and suspend” application. These strategies, which have been used by many couples of full retirement age to maximize lifetime benefits, will no longer be available. Depending upon your age and circumstances, you may be grandfathered under the old rules and able to take advantage of these eliminated strategies before the window of opportunity closes. Final deadlines are based on your full retirement age and may require that you take action now to avoid a decrease in lifetime benefits for yourself and your family.

The “restricted” application allows a spouse (or qualifying ex-spouse) to switch between their own work record and their (ex)spouse’s work record when claiming Social Security benefits. This strategy maximizes lifetime payouts by paying benefits under one record while the other record earns delayed credits of 8% per year. This filing option is being phased out and is no longer available to anyone born after January 1, 1954. However, if you were age 62 on or before January 1, 2016, and are eligible for Social Security benefits under your own and a spousal record, you remain eligible to file a restricted application at you full retirement age. Upon filing, be sure to request that your payment be “restricted” to one record so that delayed credits can accrue under the other record.

The “file and suspend” application for Social Security benefits allows one spouse to collect a spousal benefit without the other spouse also collecting benefits. This strategy helps a married couple maximize their lifetime payouts by collecting a spousal benefit and earning delayed credits under the same record. Under the new rules, a spouse can no longer collect Social Security benefits under a suspended record; however, if you were born before May 1, 1950, you remain eligible to suspend your own benefits without denying benefits to your spouse. To secure the option of your spouse collecting benefits at full retirement age under your suspended record, file for your own benefits now (or no later than April 29, 2016.) Upon filing, request that your benefits be suspended so that delayed credits can accrue under your record.

While only those grandfathered under the Bipartisan Budget Act retain the “restricted” and “file and suspend” options, many other strategies can affect your Social Security claiming decision. Your potential maximum lifetime benefit is just one factor to consider. Other equally important factors for consideration are: your need for income, personal life expectancies, and what other assets are available to meet your financial needs. Social Security rules are complicated; it is always advisable to analyze the trade-offs unique to you.

For more information about Social Security claiming strategies or to file a claim, go to

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