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Social Security Update

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Congress to curtail two useful benefits

Rick Kahler MS CFPBy Rick Kahler MS CFP http://www.KahlerFinancial.com

Congress is about to curtail two little-known, but very useful, benefits of Social Security. These are the ability to file-and-suspend and to file a restricted application. At the time of this writing, Congress had not formally passed the bill but it was expected to pass within days.


Remember when Paul Ryan proposed we extend the full retirement age for Social Security from age 67 to 69 over a 40-year time period? The media went ballistic. Senior citizen groups sponsored TV ads of Paul Ryan dumping grandma over the cliff. His proposal never saw the light of day.

Fast forward to the current Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, a bill that will cost Social Security recipients far more in benefits in the near future than Ryan’s proposal. Yet there has been nowhere near the outcry from the media, either political party, or the President.


The benefits that the budget bill strips from the Social Security program are little known by the average American and a bit complex, even though they can add up to tens of thousands of dollars of immediate cash benefits for nearly all Social Security recipients.

What Congress passed, and the President says he will sign, ends a benefit called file-and-suspend. This applies to married couples. It allows the higher-earning spouse to file for Social Security at full retirement age (currently 66), but to suspend taking the benefit so it can increase by 8% a year until age 70. This enables the lower-earning spouse to begin receiving spousal benefits.

The legislation will disallow that benefit and restrict the lower-earning spouse from receiving the spousal benefit until the higher-earning spouse actually starts receiving payments. This means if you wait until 70 to take the highest monthly Social Security benefit possible, your spouse will also have to wait until you turn 70 to receive spousal benefits.



As an example, assume Dr. Tyler’s full retirement age benefit is $3,000 per month. Her spouse Dana, the same age, has a full retirement benefit of $500. Under the current program, Dana could receive three times more, or $1,500 a month, at age 66, even though Tyler suspends her right to begin receiving her monthly benefit. By waiting until age 70, she would see her benefit grow to closer to $4,000 a month. Under this legislation, Dana would have to wait until age 70 to take the $1,500 spousal benefit. This costs the couple $1,500 a month for four years, or $72,000.

The second benefit stripped under this act affects everyone covered under the Social Security program, whether married or not. It is known as filing a restricted application. Currently, when you hit full retirement age and decide to suspend taking your benefit, you have the option to change your mind at any time before age 70 and retroactively receive your benefits.


This benefit is incredibly valuable in certain cases. Suppose, for example, Dr. Edgar has decided to wait until age 70 to begin receiving benefits but, at age 69, he becomes terminally ill. He could file to retroactively claim all three years of lost benefits. If Edgar’s full benefit amount were $3000 a month, the total retroactive benefit would be $108,000. This option is wiped out under the legislation.

Those currently receiving these benefits will become grandfathered under the legislation and continue to receive them. However, anyone currently qualifying for file-and-suspend benefits but not receiving them has until six months after Congress passes the Budget Act to complete the filing process.



While not all Social Security recipients will be affected by these changes, for those who are the impact will be significant.


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3 Responses

  1. Consider a file and suspend strategy

    One SS option worth considering is called file-and-suspend. If you wait until your full retirement age, then you can file for your benefit and then immediately suspend it. You’ll still earn the delayed retirement credits of 8% per year from your full retirement age to age 70.

    But, in case you ever need your benefit immediately or have an emergency, you have the flexibility to not only start your benefit at that moment but also receive a lump sum of the payments you would have gotten had you started at your full retirement age.

    If you do opt to take a lump sum of missed payments, you won’t receive the delayed retirement credits, so be careful when deciding if you need the money immediately.

    However, if you’re waiting until age 70 to claim your benefit, the flexibility this strategy offers can add to your peace of mind.




    Last week, the bipartisan budget bill was signed into law, averting a U.S. default and deferring further battle over debt and spending levels until presidential and congressional elections are over, according to U.S. News & World Report.

    The new law includes provisions that CBS Money Watch said are likely to strengthen Social Security and Medicare by improving the programs’ finances. Since the provisions also have the potential to reduce benefits for some Americans, they may not prove to be all that popular. Here are two of the changes that affect Social Security benefits:

    • File-and-suspend strategies will be limited in 2016

    This change could cost some Americans up to $50,000 in lifetime Social Security benefits, according to PBS News Hour. The strategy entails having a husband or wife file for Social Security benefits at full retirement age and then suspend the benefits immediately. This allows a spouse to claim a spousal benefit, while the husband or wife receives delayed retirement credits.

    Effective May 1, 2016, no one will be able to voluntarily file and suspend benefits to make a spousal benefit available to a spouse or to protect the right to file for retroactive benefits.

    • Restricted application strategies will not be an option after 2015

    Restricted application also is a Social Security claiming strategy. It allows an applicant to receive spousal benefits while earning delayed retirement credits until age 70. Americans who meet age requirements in 2015 can employ the strategy; younger Americans cannot.

    If you are currently employing these strategies, you are probably grandfathered. We’ll know more when the Social Security Administration offers some insight as to how the new rules will be interpreted. That’s expected to happen before the end of the year. In the meantime, if you have questions about how this may affect your retirement plans, please contact your financial advisor.

    Arthur Chalekian GEPC
    [Financial Consultant]


  3. On Government Legacy Systems

    Did you know that the Social Security computer systems used to determine eligibility and estimate benefits are about 31 years old? Some use a programming language called COBOL, dating to the late 1950s and early 1960s?

    Now, consider this in light of mandated EHRs.



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