On November 2, 2015, President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 into law. One section of this legislation, titled “Closure of Unintended Loopholes,” effectively ends two Social Security claiming strategies that have been used by many married couples since 2010 to enhance their lifetime benefits.
Strategies affected are the restricted application for spouse-only benefits and the file-and-suspend strategy. In addition, the legislation eliminates the ability to file and suspend benefits and later request a lump-sum payment of more than six months of retroactive payments. You will want to talk to your clients and prospects about these changes because there is still a window of opportunity for some couples to take advantage of them.
Under the previous rules, married couples with dual entitlements had the ability for one spouse to file and suspend benefits (at full retirement age or later) in order for the other spouse to file a “restricted application” for a spouse-only benefit (at full retirement age). Both spouses were able to postpone their own worker benefits, which earned delayed retirement credits and grew the benefit by about 8% annually, up to age 70.
Because of the new rules, one spouse can still file and suspend benefits, but the other spouse will not be able to claim a spousal benefit on the other’s record until the spouse who “filed and suspended” starts receiving Social Security benefits. Once a spouse files for benefits, he or she will be “deemed” to be claiming the maximum benefit to which he or she is entitled, and that benefit will not increase unless a COLA is received.
However, married couples who have reached full retirement age (currently age 66) have a small window of time to take advantage of the existing file-and-suspend strategy, which will expire after April 30, 2016. In addition, couples who are 62 or older at the end of 2015 can still take advantage of the restricted application for a spouse-only benefit at full retirement age (and earn delayed retirement credits until the worker benefit is claimed) as long as the other spouse is receiving (not delaying) Social Security benefits.
Survivor benefits have not changed, nor has the ability to “start, stop, start again” or to receive six months of retroactive benefits when certain conditions are met.
Because of the complexity of Social Security, we believe it’s just as important now for people to understand Social Security rules and restrictions as it was before the legislation was enacted.