Can I file for spousal benefits now and my retirement benefits later?

Published: July 6, 2020


If you were born in 1953 or earlier, then yes you may. This is a couple’s filing strategy known as filing a restricted application and it is in the process of being phased out by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

The name comes from the fact that a person restricts their application to collect only the lower of the two benefit amounts they are entitled to – the spousal benefit based on their spouse’s earnings, rather than their own retirement benefit.

Here are some specific details…

First, if one or both spouses were born in 1953 or earlier, then they may use this filing strategy. This also includes those born on January 1, 1954 because Social Security consider a person born on the first day of the month to be born in the previous month. Therefore, if you were born on January 1, they consider you to have been born in December of the previous year.

Second, for one spouse to claim spousal benefits, the other spouse must be collecting retirement benefits.

And third, the spouse collecting spousal benefits may not use this filing strategy until their full retirement age, FRA.

As an example, consider Ross and Anna. Ross was born in May 1953 and Anna in April 1954 so both have a FRA of 66.

Ross has the higher primary insurance amount (PIA), the retirement benefit he will collect at his FRA, of $2,600 and Anna’s is $1,600.
They were planning to wait to collect their own Social Security retirement benefits until they turned 70 in 2023 and 2024. At age 70 both their benefits would be 32% higher than their PIAs.

When Ross turned 66 in May of 2019, he was eligible to use the restricted application to collect a spousal benefit based on Anna’s earnings, but only if she started collecting her retirement benefit at the same time.

They decided to wait one more year until Anna was FRA in 2020. When she started collecting her retirement benefit in April of 2020, Ross filed a restricted application to collect a spousal benefit of 50% of her PIA of $1,600, or $800month.

Together they collect $2,400/month. When Ross turns 70 in May of 2023, he will switch to his own retirement benefit, which will be $3,432/month. Anna will continue to collect her retirement benefit of $1,600 for a total of $5,032/month.

The additional benefit of this claiming strategy is that they have maximized Ross’ benefit, which is what Anna will “inherit” as the survivor if Ross dies before her.


Do you have a question about Social Security? Ask Martha your own question here.

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