How Do I Use ‘Restricted Application’ to Get More Social Security?

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Welcome to the Social Security Q&A. You ask a Social Security question, our expert provides the answer.

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Today’s question comes from Ruxandra:

“I have a question related to the restricted application for Social Security. I was born in 1954, and my husband was born in 1957. So, my full retirement age (FRA) is 66 while my husband’s FRA is 66.5 years. When I turn 66 in a few months, can my husband file for his benefits so that I can file for one-half of his benefits, using the restricted application strategy? Or, does my husband need to wait until his FRA to file for his own benefits in order that I might claim a spousal benefit using a restricted application?”

‘So long’ to a key Social Security strategy

Ruxandra, as I explain below, you are not eligible for the restricted application option. You missed being eligible for it by a few months.

The restricted application strategy works as follows: One spouse — in this instance, let’s say it’s the wife — claims her own retirement benefits. Then, provided her husband has reached his FRA, he can claim a spousal benefit, letting his own retirement benefit continue to grow up to age 70.

A restriction imposed by Congress in 2015 limits the use of the restricted application to those born prior to 1954. Ruxandra, since you were born in 1954, this limitation is the one that prevents you from using the restricted application option.

Some of my clients wrongly believe that both spouses need to have reached their FRA in order to use the restricted application option. This is not the case. The spouse claiming retirement benefits can be any age, provided it is at least 62. The spouse claiming spousal benefits using this option must have reached FRA.

As you may have inferred, the restricted application option is being phased out. Those born in 1953 will be the last ones to use it. Anyone born in 1953 will turn 70 sometime in 2023. If a person is using the restricted application, once they reach 70 (if not before), they would switch from their spousal benefit to their retirement benefit. And that will be the end of the restricted application option.

Ruxandra, even though you do not qualify for the restricted application option, there is still the issue of timing. That is, to optimize your Social Security benefits, you need to make the right choice as to when you and your husband claim benefits. Optimal timing of your claims still matters. Getting some inexpensive expert advice about optimal timing may save you many thousands of dollars.

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About me

I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years.

In 2009, I co-founded, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.

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