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Important Social Security Changes - Pinnacle Investment Management, Inc.

Important Social Security Changes

March 29, 2016 / Blog

As many of you may have heard, The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 has made some significant changes to Social Security. Specifically, two popular claiming strategies have been cut: File & Suspend, and Restricted Application.

Before we get into the details of what these two strategies are, let’s first let’s look at who is impacted:


For those under the age of 62
Unfortunately, if you were under the age of 62 as of December 31, 2015, then neither File & Suspend or Restricted Application are available

For those 62 or older
If you were 62 by December 31, 2015, then Restricted Application is still available for you to use.

For those 66 or older
If you are 66 by April 29, 2016, Restricted Application and File & Suspend are still available. Importantly, you have to take action by April 29th to utilize File & Suspend, otherwise it will be lost. Just being 66 by that date doesn’t do anything for you (or your spouse) if you don’t act before then.

 

File & Suspend and Restricted Application are rather complex strategies. This will be a general overview of what they are and how they can be utilized for couples. Your specific situation will impact the details of how these strategies may work.

 

File & Suspend

Under File and Suspend, someone, upon reaching their Full Retirement Age, would file for their Social Security benefit, then immediately suspend it. The reason for doing this is that it would allow their spouse to collect “spousal benefits.”

If unfamiliar, a spousal benefit allows someone to collect 50% of their spouse’s retirement benefit, while allowing their own retirement benefit to grow. You cannot collect your own benefit and a spousal benefit at the same time.

File and Suspend is important because the only way for someone to collect a spousal benefit is for their spouse to be either collecting their own retirement benefit or to have filed & suspended their benefit.

An example should help to clarify:

Bob and Christina are both 66 and their full retirement age is 66 as well. Bob has a Social Security benefit of $2500/m and Christina has a Social Security benefit of $800/m.

• Bob doesn’t want to collect his Social Security benefit yet. He would like to let it grow until 70. By waiting, his benefit will increase by 8% per year, which would be 32% overall. At 70, his benefit would equal $3,300/m.

 Christina would like to collect Social Security now. However, her benefit ($800) is less than her spousal benefit ($1250/m). In order to collect the higher benefit, Bob will have to file & suspend.

By filing & suspending, Bob allows Christina to collect her spousal benefit, which is $1250/m. Bob’s benefit remains untouched and grows at the 8% per year until 70.

 

File & Suspend also works great for couples who both have higher benefits. By using the strategy, one spouse was able to get what many considered “free spousal benefits” while letting their own benefits grow. Let’s follow up on the example from above:

• Same facts but Christina’s benefit is $2000/m at 66 instead of $800/m.

• Christina does not want to collect her own benefit now, but rather wait until 70, when her benefit would be $2,640 ($2,000 increased by 32% over 4 years).

• If Bob Files and Suspends at 66, Christina would be eligible to collect a spousal benefit of $1250/m.

• From 66 until 70, Christina would collect $1250/m, which is $15,000/year. Over 4 years she would collect an extra $60,000 in Social Security benefits!

• At 70, Bob would collect his increased benefit of $3,300/m and Christina would switch over to her own higher benefit of $2,640/m.

The example above shows how powerful a strategy File & Suspend was. It also explains why it was targeted to be cut.

An important aspect with File & Suspend is that your spouse does not need to collect their spousal benefit immediately after you file & suspend. Rather, it gives them the opportunity to do so in the future.

To follow up on the example above:

Same facts as above, but Bob is 66 and Christina is 64.

If Bob does not File & Suspend by April 29th of 2016, the file & suspend strategy will forever be lost, and when Christina reaches 66, she will not be able to collect those “free spousal benefits” we showed. Rather she will only be eligible for her own retirement benefit.

• If Bob does File & Suspend by April 29th, Christina will be able to collect her spousal benefit when she turns 66. All the while Bob can let his own benefit grow and Christina can also let her own retirement benefit grow from 66 to 70.

 

It’s vital that if you are 66 by April 29th to take action! By missing that date you may be leaving a lot of money on the table for you and your family.

One last important thing to know is that your spousal benefit will not increase after your Full Retirement Age. Your own retirement benefit will grow by 8% per year, but the spousal benefit will never be higher than 50% of your spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount.

 

Restricted Application:

Restricted Application will sound very similar to File & Suspend, and they at times complement each other. However, they are distinct strategies and it’s worth understanding their differences as Restricted Application will be around longer than File & Suspend.

A Restricted Application allows you to receive just your spousal benefits. Specifically, when you go to the Social Security office or ssa.gov to collect your benefit, you let Social Security know that you would like to “restrict” your application to your spousal benefit, not your retirement benefit. Like we discussed earlier, this allows your own retirement benefit to grow by 8% a year.

Example:

• Rich and Jane are 64 and 63 respectively. Rich will begin collecting his Social Security at 66 and will receive $2400/m. Jane has a benefit of $2000/m at 66 but would like to wait until 70 to collect.

When Jane reaches the age of 66, she will be able to file a Restricted Application for just her spousal benefits since Rich has already starting collecting his benefit. If Jane files a Restricted Application, she could collect her spousal benefit, $1200/m, from now until 70. At 70, Jane can switch back to her own benefit, which would have grown to $2640/m.

• If Rich did not collect his own benefit at 66 and instead waited to collect it at 70, then Jane could not file a Restricted Application. Also, since Rich will be younger than 66 by April 29th, 2016 he would not be able to file & suspend either! So Jane would not be eligible to collect a spousal benefit at 66.

Important points to remember:

1. You can only file a Restricted Application if your spouse is collecting their retirement benefit or has filed & suspended.

2. You must be at or older than your Full Retirement Age to file a Restricted Application

3. Your spousal benefit does not grow past your Full Retirement Age. So if you are at your Full Retirement Age and eligible for a spousal benefit, there is really no benefit in not collecting it.

 

Deadline: Restricted Application will be available only for those who were 62 by December 31, 2015.

Unlike with File & Suspend, you don’t need to do anything now for Restricted Application to apply. Rather, if you were over 62 by December 31, 2015, the strategy may be available to you when you reach Full Retirement Age.

 

As can be seen, File & Suspend and Restricted Application have a number of moving parts, yet if used properly they can offer a lot of benefit. I would recommend that if any of the above applies to you, or if you are unsure if it will apply to you or not, to reach out and we can help answer any questions.

 

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About the author

John Shanley: CFP ® is a Financial Advisor with Pinnacle. He joined in 2015 after previously working as a Financial Consultant for Fidelity Investments. John is a Certified Financial Planner, a graduate of Fordham University and is currently pursuing his Masters degree in Financial Services. John is a native of Pawling NY and currently resides in Suffield with his wife, Jennifer, who is an Immigration Attorney. In his free time, John enjoys reading and is an avid hockey fan.


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