Ask Larry: Can I Restrict My Application To Social Security Spousal Benefits Only?

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Social Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s column addresses the ability to file a restricted application, the availability of spousal benefits, school and disability benefits, whether there are potential problems with filing for spousal benefits and filing for spousal benefits at or before full retirement age (FRA). Larry Kotlikoff is the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security, a Social Security benefits calculator referred to in this post.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security:

Can I Restrict My Application To Social Security Spousal Benefits Only?​​

Hi Larry, I will be 68 in May and my wife will be 66 in June. We have not claimed my retirement benefit yet and my estimate at full retirement age (FRA) is $2,400 per month while my wife’s is $400. My strategy is not to claim my retirement benefit till age 70 so I can maximize. Can my wife start her retirement benefit at 66, and can I then file a restricted application for my spousal benefit only and get that till 70? And at 70, can I start receiving my own retirement benefit, and can my wife then apply for her spousal benefit? And would you suggest I file online, over the phone or in person? Thanks, Joseph

Hi Joseph, yes the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 won’t prevent your proposed strategy since you were born after 1/1/1954. This means you can file for just your spousal benefit once you reach your FRA by restricting your application.

I don’t think it matters whether you file online or in person or by telephone. If you’re comfortable filing online at ssa.gov, though, that would probably be the most convenient method. If you don’t feel comfortable filing online, you can file either by going to your local office or over the phone. By the way, you won’t be able to file your second set of applications online when you reach age 70 unless Social Security expands their online capabilities by then. Best, Larry


Can My Wife Get Spousal Benefits?​​

Hi Larry, I’m hearing about spousal benefits for the first time, and don’t know anything about it. I am 62 and still working. My wife Barbara is 62, retired and not collecting her Social Security retirement benefit yet. I plan on filing for my Social Security retirement benefit this summer at 64. Should my wife wait to collect her retirement benefit until that time as well and can she apply for spousal benefits? My would be approximately $25,000 and hers would be approximately $7,000. Would any spousal benefits for her reduce my retirement benefit? Thanks, Don

Hi Don, It sounds like your wife would qualify for some spousal benefits when you start drawing your benefits, but she couldn’t get spousal benefits without also filing for her own benefits. What she would then receive is essentially the higher of the two benefit rates, and the rate will be reduced if she starts drawing prior to full retirement age (FRA). Your wife’s receipt of spousal benefits would not reduce your benefit rate.

Your wife could file for her own benefits now and then for additional spousal benefits when you file for your benefits. In that case each benefit would be reduced separately based on her age at the time she becomes entitled to the benefit. You and your wife should strongly consider using an expert Social Security benefits calculator as described in other answers to explore and compare your filing options in order to determine your best overall strategy. Best, Larry

Am I Safe To Take A Class?​​

Hi Larry, I am 37 and currently receive both SSDI and SSI benefits. I was considering taking a single class per school semester online but I’m worried this will affect my benefits. I want to keep my life moving forward in hopes of getting back out into the workforce, but I don’t want to endanger my current stability. Am I safe to take a class? Thanks, Stan

Hi Stan, Yes, attending school wouldn’t adversely affect either SSI or Social Security disability benefits.


What’s The Catch?​​

Hi Larry, My wife and I are both 66. She has filed for her Social Security retirement benefits of $1,700 per month. I am waiting until I am 70 to get $3,700. When she filed, the Social Security representative told her I can get half her benefit now. Can I do so without impacting the retirement benefit I will receive when I turn 70? This seems like one of those too good to be true topics. There is over $1,200 difference in my claiming at 70 versus now, so a lot at risk. What’s the catch? Thanks, Pete

Hi Pete, There isn’t really a catch. Since you were born before 1954, as long as you are FRA or older and your wife is drawing her benefits you can apply just for spousal benefits only without adversely affecting your own age 70 retirement rate. To be safe, though, you might want to use an expert Social Security benefits calculator, such as Maximize My Social Security or another top-rated program to make sure that you and your wife are choosing the best possible strategy. Best, Larry


Should My Wife File For Spousal Benefits At Age 62 Or At FRA?​​

Hi Larry, I am 71 and have been receiving benefits since 70. My wife is 10 years younger and will be 62 in August. Her spousal benefits at her full retirement age (FRA) are higher than her retirement benefits. Should she take her spousal benefit at 62 or wait till FRA. I want her to take it early but she wants to wait till her FRA so it won’t be reduced. Who’s right? Thanks, Bill

Hi Bill, That’s entirely a personal decision. If your wife does file at age 62, she’ll be forced to file for both her own retirement benefits as well as spousal benefits. What she would then receive is a reduced combined benefit rate that will be between roughly 26% to 31% lower than her full retirement age (FRA) rate. Regardless of when she files for her retirement & spousal benefits, though, if you die before her and she is at least FRA at the time of your death her combined benefit rate would be increased to your full rate. Best, Larry

To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Economic Security Planning, Inc.

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