The Elimination of File and Suspend Couples Social Security Claiming Strategy – What You Need to Know

Daniel Penzing
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What Is the File and Suspend Claiming Strategy?

For years, if you got married after you filed for your own Social Security benefits, you could delay taking those benefits until you were 70 and claim a spousal benefit – usually 50% of your spouse’s benefits. The various spousal benefits, including 50% of your spouse’s Social Security benefit, made it beneficial to delay starting your own benefits until you could claim spousal benefits. That way, you could maximize the total benefits you received.

This system, called the file-and-suspend claiming strategy, was designed to relieve some of the financial impact of more than one person collecting a Social Security benefit based upon the employment earnings of one person. The rule had the benefit of helping people to strategically manage their Social Security claiming decisions based on the needs of the family without significantly expanding the Social Security program. But occasionally, someone would take advantage of the file-and-suspend claiming strategy in a way Congress never intended.

What’s Changing?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is eliminating the ability for workers to apply for Social Security Benefits on a future filing date that’s different from their full retirement date. This change means that workers will no longer be able to delay their full retirement in order to get a higher monthly benefit.

Before this change, if a worker was married and in a file and suspend strategy, the worker’s spouse could choose whether they would get their own Social Security benefits or the worker’s reduced benefit. This strategy also allowed the worker to collect a spousal benefit instead of their own delayed retirement benefits. In the case of a divorce, the worker’s former spouse would also have the option to switch from the worker’s reduced benefit to their own unreduced benefits.

This tactic was useful when the time came to switch from spousal benefits to a full filing and retirement benefit. But, if the spouse dies before full retirement age, the former spouse would not be able to switch to their own unreduced benefit. That’s why some workers applied for Social Security early and then suspended their benefits later when they rea