Deciding when to claim your Social Security benefits is often one of the most significant financial decisions older Americans must make today because, for many, Social Security benefits make up a substantial portion of their retirement income. Unfortunately, Congress recently passed legislation that will put an end to two popular strategies being used to maximize benefits married couples receive in their golden years.
The strategies that are scheduled to be phased out are commonly known as “File and Suspend” and the Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits. These strategies have made it possible for couples to delay laying claim to their individual benefits based on their earnings while still claiming a spousal benefit based on the other’s earnings – as long as both are 66 or older.
How Does File And Suspend Work?
To receive the spousal benefit, one individual would file for their Social Security benefits – then immediately suspend them. The other spouse would then file a restricted application to collect only the spousal benefit rather than the benefit they earned as an individual, even if their individual would have been higher. By employing this strategy, both could increase their earned benefits by taking advantage of the option to delay retirement credits, which would increase their earned benefit by up to 8 percent for each year the benefit is delayed until the individual reaches 70 years of age.
Is It Too Late To Take Advantage Of This Strategy?
President Barack Obama signed legislation on Nov. 2 to put an end to the file and suspend strategy. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too late to act. There is a six-month window of opportunity, as long as both spouses were born on or before April 30, 1950. Keep in mind that you are up against a May 1, 2016, deadline.
What About The Couples Who Are Already Receiving Benefits?
Fortunately, the couples already using these strategies will be grandfathered in under the new law and will not be asked to pay back any of the benefits they have received to date. Furthermore, they will continue to receive the benefits they have already been granted. The new law will not impact their current Social Security income, which is why it’s so important for eligible couples to take advantage of this 6-month window.
What Happens After The 6-Month Window Closes?
Moving forward, under the new law, individuals will still have the ability to suspend their benefits, but the Social Security Administration will not allow spousal or dependent child benefits based on the earnings of someone who has suspended their own benefits. In other words, to claim a spousal benefit, the earned benefits have to be paid out as well.
When filing for retirement benefits (other than with a restricted application), spouses will effectively claim their earned benefit and their spousal benefit. They will then receive the greater amount.
Fortunately, there are still opportunities to maximize your Social Security benefits. A financial advisor can you help navigate the terrain. There are also free tools available to help you find out how much you can expect to collect from Social Security when you finally decide to claim the benefit. The Social Security calculator is located here. You can also visit the Social Security website to view your Social Security Account Statement. To discover more retirement strategies, check out one of the articles below or email Rea & Associates and ask to speak with a retirement planning expert.