What Is A Restricted Application?

Martha Shedden RSSA President & Co-Founder


If you were born in 1953 or earlier, then you can file a “restricted application.” This enables you to file for spousal benefits now and retirement benefits later.

This couple’s filing strategy 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 Tom and Tina. Tom was born in May 1953 and Tina in April 1954 so both have a FRA of 66.

Tom has the higher primary insurance amount (PIA), the retirement benefit he will collect at his FRA, of $2,600 and Tina’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 Tom turned 66 in May of 2019, he was eligible to use the restricted application to collect a spousal benefit based on Tina’s earnings, but only if she started collecting her retirement benefit at the same time.

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

Together they collect $2,400/month. When Tom turns 70 in May of 2023, he will switch to his own retirement benefit, which will be $3,432/month. Tina 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 Tom’s benefit, which is what Tina will “inherit” as the survivor if Tom dies before her.