Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits: 'File and Suspend'

By on February 11, 2014 in Current Events, Retirement with 5 Comments

Note: Changes brought about the by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 have rendered some or all of the information in this article obsolete. 

In an earlier article on restricting your application for Social Security Benefits to spousal benefits only, I referred to the strategy called “file and suspend.”  Often the file and suspend strategy goes hand in hand with the strategy of restricting one’s application to spousal benefits only.

In order for anyone to be able to collect a spousal Social Security benefit based on your earnings record, you had to have applied for your own benefits.  If you want someone to be eligible for a benefit based on your account, but do not want to collect your benefits yet, you can use the strategy called “file and suspend.”  Is there a catch?  Of course there is!  You must be at least your full retirement age to utilize this strategy.

How might this work?  Here’s an example using spousal benefits:

Bill is 66 (his full retirement age) and is entitled to a Social Security benefit of $2,000 per month.  His spouse Marie only worked part time and is entitled to a benefit of $800 per month.  Bill wants to delay collecting his Social Security until age 70, when his benefit would be $2,640 per month based on delayed retirement credits.  Bill can apply for his Social Security benefit and immediately suspend it, allowing Marie to collect a spousal benefit of $1,000.  This amount assumes Marie is also her full retirement age; if she were younger her benefit would be reduced.  Bill then waits until age 70 and collects his larger benefit.

This can also work to Marie’s benefit.  If Marie is her full retirement age when she applies for the spousal benefit based on Bill’s account, she is allowed to restrict her application to spousal benefits only.  If she then waits until age 70 to apply for her own benefits, delayed retirement credits would have increased her own benefit to $1,056 per month.

Here is an example using children’s benefits:

When Bob was 60, and his wife Sally was 50, they adopted an infant child.  Once Bob reaches the age of 66, he files for his benefit of $2,000 per month and immediately suspends receiving it.  Their six year old child will be entitled to a children’s benefit of $1,000 per month until she is at least age 18 (with a few exceptions).  At age 70 Bob applies for a benefit that includes delayed retirement credits and now receives $2,640 per month.

Social Security’s fact sheet on file and suspend can be found at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/suspend.htm

Individuals under their full retirement age are allowed to withdraw their application for Social Security if they do so within 12 months of applying.  Sometimes this is confused with the file and suspend option, but there is a great difference.  Individuals who withdraw their applications will have to repay all the benefits they or any family members received based on their application.  The fact sheet on this strategy is http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/withdrawal.htm

John Grobe’s latest book, The Answer Book on Your Federal Employee Benefits, has just been released by LRP Publications. The book is written in an easy to understand question and answer format and covers all areas of federal benefits from the perspective of an employee at various stages of their career. Order your copy at shoplrp.com.

© 2016 John Grobe. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from John Grobe.

About the Author

John Grobe is President of Federal Career Experts, a consulting firm that specializes in federal retirement and career transition issues. He is also affiliated with TSP Safety Net. John retired from federal service after 25 years of progressively more responsible human resources positions. He is the author of Understanding the Federal Retirement Systems and Career Transition: A Guide for Federal Employees, both published by the Federal Management Institute. Federal Career Experts provides pre-retirement seminars for a wide variety of federal agencies.

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