Q&A: Timing those spouse benefits

Dear Liz: My husband and I are retired. He is 67 and I’m 65. We have been delaying Social Security as we are financially able to wait until he turns 70 to begin benefits. We both turned 62 before January 2, 2016, and are wondering how the “restricted application” rule applies to us. My husband was the primary worker and will have a payout at 70 that is more than twice what I will be paid, so I would be the one taking the spousal benefit. Would you recommend we continue to wait until he is 70 to start benefits, or does the rule make it smarter for us to begin sooner?

Answer: Typically when someone applies for Social Security, she is “deemed” to be applying both for her own benefit and for any spousal benefit that might be available. Restricted applications allowed someone to apply only for a spousal benefit, allowing her own benefit to grow, since delaying the start of benefits increases the amount by about 7% to 8% each year. She could switch to her own benefit when it maxed out at age 70.

Congress changed the rules to eliminate restricted applications for people who turn 62 on or after Jan. 2, 2016. Although a restricted application is still available to you, your husband must be receiving benefits before your spousal benefits can begin. (There used to be something called “file and suspend,” that would allow your husband to trigger spousal benefits without receiving his own, but that has been eliminated. He would have had to reach his full retirement age and requested the suspension before April 30, 2016.)

One other detail that’s important: While your husband’s benefit will continue to grow if he doesn’t start until age 70, the spousal benefit will not. The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of your husband’s benefit at his full retirement age, which was 66. The spousal benefit is further reduced if you should start it before your own full retirement age (which is also 66).

In most cases, it’s best for the higher wage-earner to wait as long as possible to begin, which would mean you would start spousal benefits in three years when your husband turns 70. Remember that it’s the larger check one of you will have to live on after the other one dies; you don’t continue to receive two checks, so it’s usually worth trying to max out the larger one. If you file a restricted application for spousal benefits only, you’d have the option of switching to your own benefit at 70 if it’s larger. You may want to use the Social Security claiming calculator at AARP’s site to evaluate your options.

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  1. Fred kaplan says

    Hi Liz,

    Thanks for answering my previous question regarding taking IRA money out to purchase a home.

    I realized that I would be paying taxes on any non-Roth IRA’s, so I accept that tax as a given. What I was trying (and failed to) ask was this. Since, we were receiving health insurance through Oregon’s ACA (as I am self-employed) based on our 2018 tax return we are being charged for the health insurance (Approx. $20K) that we need to repay, even though we didn’t have any income throughout the year, as we were living off of our savings and only took the IRA money out in December.

    What I’m trying to ask you is there someway for us to clarify this with the IRS, so we aren’t expected to repay all of the “affordable” health insurance that we received?

    It just seems rather unfair. The IRS sees it as we had a yearly income of $107K but, in reality we didn’t. The “income” was investment savings that we withdrew in December so that we could purchase the home in early 2019.

    Thanks again for any thoughts/recommendations.