Can you “restrict” your Social Security now?

Social SecurityDid you turn 62 by 1 Jan 2016? Your options later if you didn’t.

If you did turn 62 by then …

… you retain the ability to claim just your spousal benefits (Why? answer later) from your spouses Social Security record when you turn 66 or later (called restricted claim for spousal benefits). With a couple of caveats, naturally!

And here is where most get confused due to the twist and turns of the new law that changed things.*

  • Caveat 1: The “other spouse” (from who’s record you’re restricting benefits to your spousal benefits) has started their benefits. OR
  • Caveat 2: The “other spouse” had requested to file and suspend their benefits within the first six months of the law’s enactment. **

So to make caveats a bit easier to grasp: the “other spouse” must have started, or filed for, benefits before your spousal benefits can start (same as the “old” rules).

Ex-spouses (meeting qualifications) who have been divorced at least two years can collect spousal benefits even if their ex has not claimed their benefits yet, as long as the ex is at least age 62.

Why would one want to restrict their benefits to just their spousal benefit? Why not claim your own benefit (which may be higher)? This gets to the “loophole” the new law closed. Because YOUR benefit would be allowed to continue to grow by receiving the Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) after you’ve reached age 66 and did NOT start YOUR benefits. Instead, you receive spousal benefits and then switch to your own benefit at age 70 when YOUR benefit has maximized. In other words, you get some now and more later.


But … now this strategy has been limited to those who meet the age criteria mentioned above (older than 62 now). The transition period allows those who can’t do this strategy enough time to adjust their plans (myself being in this later group missing the age cutoff by about a year). The rules if you are divorced are the same as if you were married, with criteria that defines time periods of marriage and divorce as the basic difference.

To recap:

Restricted application to spousal benefits only: People who were 62 at the end of 2015 (BD 01/01/1954 or earlier) actually have eight years to file a restricted application (until age 70). The strategy is only available to spouses (and ex-spouses) who were 62 or older by 01/01/16; and the other spouse must be receiving benefits (unless divorced).


If you are younger than age 62 by that date above?

You will be deemed*** to have filed for the highest benefit you are eligible for (retirement benefit on your record, spousal benefit from a spouses record, or divorced spouse benefit if marriage lasted at least 10 years).

Thus, it is important to understand the relationship between benefit amounts if you qualify for more than one. If you can, you would wait until you reach a higher benefit amount before claiming any benefits at all. Spousal benefits can’t be claimed until the worker has filed for their own benefit. So there’s an interaction between benefits and filing. There is not a hard and fast rule here to maximize benefits now, other than the rule being – each situation is different so you need to compare the scenarios.


Moral of the story: So what’s the best strategy? Be patient! Wait to collect the highest benefit possible as long as benefits are growing. Of course, there are some limited situations where this may not apply. How does one know? Know your benefits and how your situation plays out under different scenarios – that’s the rule: that there is no rule of thumb!

PS. Widows and widowers (i.e., survivors and survivors of ex’s) retain the option of claiming either the widow(er) benefit or their own retirement benefit. There is no deeming. Which one you claim first? In general, claim the lower one first and the higher one later. The exception to this rule would be health prognosis.

What do the Recent Social Security Claiming Changes Mean for Me?

Deemed Filing FAQs.

Benefits For You As A Spouse.

Benefits for you if you are Divorced.

Benefits if you are the surviving divorced spouse.


*H.R.1314 – Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, TITLE VIII–SOCIAL SECURITY, Subtitle C–Protecting Social Security Benefits, Sec. 831. Closure of unintended loopholes.

** “Other spouse” was 66 or older AND during the six month window requested to file and suspend their benefits under the old rules before the law’s window closed 30 April 2016 … Social Security Administration says it would honor file and suspend requests made by April 29, even if the agency does not process the request until after that date (point of this post – this window has closed).

*** Clients born on or before January 1, 1954 may still file a restricted application for spousal benefits when they turn FRA  (Section D(2)(b) of GN 020.002). Individuals born after January 1, 1954, may no longer get around deemed filing by filing at FRA or later.The Budget Act has thrown a wrench into deemed filing (receiving the highest of any eligible benefits) by changing the exceptions.  For them, deemed filing applies no matter when they file for benefits. Please do keep in mind this cutoff birthdate. The Social Security “Emergency Message” Changes to Deemed Filing message notes that two exceptions to deemed filing still exist: 1) when a person claims spousal benefits for having a child-in-care (under 16), and 2) when a person is entitled to his or her own disability benefit. Section C of the emergency message gets into the procedures for SSA workers: “Technicians must identify deemed filing situations and apply the appropriate policy based on the claimant’s date of birth.”

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