Q: I plan to file for Social Security in November 2016. I will turn 66 on November 24, 2016, and my wife will turn 66 on February 24, 2017. We had planned to have my wife file a restricted application for Social Security as of February 2017 and, at age 70, switch to her retirement benefit. In consideration of changes to the law, will this option still be available to us as of February 2017? — Ken
A: Yes, this strategy will still be valid under the new law. Because your wife was already 62 at the start of 2016, she is grandfathered under the new regulations. Once you’ve filed for your benefit, she will be able at her full retirement age (FRA) to file a restricted application just for her spousal benefit and then at age 70 file for her own retirement benefit. Assuming it will be larger than her spousal benefit, she should receive an additional payment that is roughly equal to the amount by which her retirement benefit exceeds her spousal benefit.
Under the old rules, you would have been able to file and suspend at your FRA. That would have permitted her to file a restricted application and allowed both of you to defer your own retirement benefits and thus earn delayed retirement credits. The ability to file and suspend will no longer be provided to people who have not reached full retirement age by the end of April (April 29, to be exact, which is the last business day of the month).
These new changes add yet another layer of complexity to what was already a challenging set of Social Security claiming decisions. And wishing the system were simpler won’t make it so. Still, by asking the right questions, as Ken has done, it’s still possible to arrive at the best outcome.
For answers to more questions about Social Security, check out this page.
Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. He is co-author of The New York Times bestseller, “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” A revised edition explaining the new Social Security rules will be published May 3. His companion book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage; Minimize Your Costs,” will be published in September. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.