On the surface, it seems too good to be true. You have a married couple, where (let’s say) the husband has earned higher yearly income than his wife. That means he has contributed more to Social Security over his working life. The husband files for Social Security benefits at full retirement age (currently age 66) and then immediately files to suspend those benefits.
As a result of this simple maneuver, the wife is now entitled to immediately receive Social Security spousal benefits equal to half of the husband’s full retirement benefits that were just suspended. She would do this if 50% of the husband’s benefit is higher than she would have received if she had simply claimed her own Social Security payments.
Because he suspended his benefits, the husband can continue working, and wait until age 70 to start receiving Social Security checks in his own name. Why would he do that? Because each year of deferral allows him to accumulate more credits—effectively raising his monthly benefits 8% a year, which is considerably higher than the inflation rate. At that time, the wife would stop claiming the husband’s benefits and start receiving her own Social Security checks. If she was working at the time, she might have raised the amount she could claim under her own name. Or she might have been able to wait to claim her own account until she’s 70, raising the amount she collects just as her husband did.
Presto! More money now, more money later.
This popular Social Security claiming strategy is called “file and suspend,” and by this time next May, it may no longer be an option for retirees. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 that recently was recently signed into law will close what lawmakers are calling the “file and suspend” loophole six in the future. You can expect that eligible seniors will be knocking on the doors of their Social Security offices before that deadline. Meanwhile, those who have already filed and suspended will be allowed to continue as before.
The original rationale behind the file and suspend strategy was to encourage more seniors to continue working. The rationale behind ending it is that it was becoming a drain on the Social Security system. Moreover, Congress was looking for money to offset a huge increase in Medicare Part B premiums for individuals not yet receiving Social Security payments. The provision is likely to pass the Senate, and could be the opening gambit of a broader discussion about how to “fix” Social Security’s messy finances.
About the Author: Bob Veres has been a commentator, author and consultant in the financial services industry for more than 20 years. Over his 20-year career in the financial services world, Mr. Veres has worked as editor of Financial Planning magazine; as a contributing editor to the Journal of Financial Planning; as a columnist and editor-at-large of Dow Jones Investment Advisor magazine; and as editor of Morningstar’s advisor web site: MorningstarAdvisor.com.
Mr. Veres has been named one of the most influential people in the financial planning profession by Investment Advisor magazine and Financial Planning magazine, was granted the NAPFA Special Achievement Award by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and most recently the Heart of Financial Planning Distinguished Service Award from the Denver-based Financial Planning Association.
When it comes to Social Security, most of us hope to get the most we possibly can from our benefits. Methods for making that happen, however, are a source of heated controversy. “File and suspend” is one advanced claiming strategy that can help retirement savers at all income levels, especially women, maximize their benefits.
A popular Social Security planning strategy used by Americans mostly in their 60s to expand their benefits, known as File and Suspend will be coming to an end in six months as a result of last week’s Congressional budget deal. Closely related and also receiving the ax under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 is another rule permitting Restricted Application.