What the End of “File and Suspend” and “Restricted Application” Means for You

Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP® Nick Defenthaler

On November 2nd, President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 into law. It contained the first major change in Social Security since 2000, eliminating popular Social Security strategies “file and suspend” and “restricted application”.  The result of this legislation is less lifetime Social Security benefits for many who planned on delaying retirement benefits until age 70.

Let's take a look at an example of how the strategies were most widely utilized:

Mark and Carrie are 65 years old and recently both retired from Microsoft.  They were both highly compensated and paid the maximum into Social Security for several decades, thus creating a $30,000/yr benefit for Mark and a $32,000/yr benefit for Carrie upon reaching full retirement age (FRA) – in their case, age 66.  Because they are both in great health, have longevity in their family and have accumulated a $1.5M portfolio to supplement retirement income, they planned to delay filing until age 70 to both get the highest possible annual benefit for life (benefits increase 8% each year you delay until age 70).    

Mark and Carrie’s financial planner suggested one change to this plan.  If Carrie were to file and immediately suspend her benefit at her Full Retirement Age  of 66, this would allow Mark to file a “restricted application”.  Filing the “restricted application” would entitle Mark to 50% of Carrie’s FRA benefit, or $16,000/yr (50% of $32,000) from age 66 until age 70.  During this same time frame, Carrie would not be receiving any benefit because she “filed and suspended” in order to receive an 8% annual benefit increase until age 70. 

When Mark turns 70, he would switch from the “restricted application” benefit of $16,000/yr to his own maximized benefit of approximately $41,000/yr (compared to $30,000/yr at age 66). At 70, Carrie would finally start to collect on her own benefit that has now grown to approximately $43,000/yr (compared to $32,000/yr at age 66) after receiving no benefits from age 66 – 70. 

It made perfect sense for Mark and Carrie to both delay benefits until age 70 because of the reasons mentioned earlier, however, by taking advantage of the “file and suspend” and “restricted application” strategies, they were able to bring home another $64,000 in total lifetime benefits ($16,000 x 4 years)! 

So why are these strategies going away? 

Lawmakers saw “file and suspend” and “restricted application” as unintended loopholes that emerged from legislation in 2000.  An additional $64,000 in total lifetime benefits really adds up, especially as more and more retirees are maximizing their benefits using this strategy.  The reforms in this year’s budget bill are projected to save Social Security an estimated $168 billion over 75 years – WOW!

Some important things to consider:

What if I’m currently receiving benefits from the “file and suspend” or “restricted application” strategies?

Don’t panic!  You are “grandfathered” in and your benefits will not change or be interrupted whatsoever.

When will the “file and suspend” strategy be eliminated and is there an age requirement?

If you attain age 66 (full retirement age for those born between 1943 and 1954) by April 29, 2016 you are eligible to still take advantage of the strategy but you must also apply for this benefit strategy by the same date.  If you wait beyond April 29, 2016 or attain age 66 after this date, you will not be able to “file and suspend”.  

When will the “restricted application” strategy be eliminated and is there an age requirement?

If you attain age 62 by the end of 2015, you are “grandfathered” in and are able to take advantage of this filing strategy if it makes sense for your situation.  Those who will not be 62 by year-end will unfortunately not be able to employ this filing strategy.

Obviously with this being a very new piece of legislation, there are still questions that need to be answered and details that need to be shaken out.  Keep your eyes open for additional communication regarding this important change in Social Security and as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly if you have questions about your own personal situation!

If you are interested in more on this topic, register for our April 7th webinar here.   

Nick Defenthaler, CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Nick is a member of The Center’s financial planning department and also works closely with Center clients. In addition, Nick is a frequent contributor to the firm’s blogs.

The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Nick Defenthaler and not necessarily those of Raymond James