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Good to Know: 50,000 Reasons to Care About the Restricted Claim Strategy for Social Security Spousal Benefits

Good to Know

This blog builds upon the foundation we established for Spousal Social Security Retirement benefits in our last blog.  To summarize our last blog, the spouse of a covered worker who claims retirement benefits at his or her full retirement age is entitled to a retirement benefit of the greater of their own primary insurance amount (PIA) or 50% of the covered worker’s PIA. We’ll dig a little deeper now and uncover the nuances behind something called a “restricted claim.” These nuances may get your married clients more in Social Security benefits. To understand a successful restricted claiming strategy, we first need to review something called “deemed filing.” We’ll take a three-step approach to peeling back the layers of this intriguing onion.

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#1 – Deemed Filing Explained

According to the Social Security Administration, “Deemed filing means that when you file for [apply for] either your retirement or your spouse’s benefit, you are required or ‘deemed’ to file for the other benefit as well.”  Well, that Social Security definition is completely clear and needs no further explanation, right?  It turns out that for most of us mere mortals, that’s about as clear as astro-physics. We’ll demystify “deemed filing” with a quick example of the applicable limits.

#2: Limits – When Deemed Filing Applies

Example: Antony, Cleopatra and Deemed Filing

Antony (Tony) and Cleopatra (Cleo) have been married for 30 years. They have both reached age 62 and their full retirement age is 67. Cleo’s primary insurance amount (PIA) is $2,500 and Tony’s PIA is $1,250.

Here’s what Deemed Filing means to Tony and Cleo:

  • Tony can’t file JUST for spousal Social Security retirement benefits on Cleo’s Social Security earnings (referred to as her “record of covered earnings” or simply “record”).
  • Tony cannot limit his claim to just spousal retirement benefits on Cleo’s record.

If that were possible, Tony could file just for spousal retirement benefits on Cleo’s record and let his own retirement benefit grow by an average of up to 8% per year from his age 67 until 70.

Your Takeaway

When you file for retirement benefits today, you are generally deemed to file for both spousal retirement benefits on your spouse’s record and your individual retirement benefits on your own record. As a result:

  • You will receive the larger of your own PIA or a percentage of your spouse’s PIA.
  • You may not generally LIMIT your filing to just your spouse’s record.

#3: Opportunities – When Deemed Filing Does Not Apply

 

Legislation passed in 2015 was heralded as the death knell for the restricted claim strategy. But opportunities remain! Here are two ways to avoid the deemed filing limits even today:

  1. The Grandfather Clause: According to Social Security, “If you turn 62 before January 2, 2016, deemed filing rules will not apply if you file at FRA [full retirement age] or later. This means that you may file for either your spouse’s benefit or your retirement benefit without being required or “deemed” to file for the other.”

     

    • Here’s what the Grandfather Clause means to Tony and Cleo - Tony should file a restricted claim for spousal benefits at his full retirement age (age 67) IFhe was age 62 before January 2, 2016.
    • Tony would receive $1,250/month (50% of Cleo’s $2,500 PIA) from his age 67 until his age 70 as a spousal retirement benefit on Cleo’s record.
    • At his age 70, he would claim a retirement benefit of $1,550/month on his own record instead of receiving $1,250/month as a spousal benefit on Cleo’s record.
    • Where did the $300/month increase come from? Tony used the restricted claim strategy to increase his own benefit by 24% (8% per year from age 67 through age 70) while receiving a spousal retirement benefit on Cleo’s record from his age 67 through age 70.
    • The net present value of that extra $300/month over an average life expectancy is about $50,000. Can you say “free money?”
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  2. Spouse Caring for Eligible Child: A spouse of the covered worker caring for the covered workers eligible child is entitled to spousal benefits on the covered worker’s record – deemed filing does not apply. An eligible child is one under age 16 or disabled.

 

The next time someone tells you restricted filing is dead, nod wisely and ask a question or two to see if you can make restricted filing work for your client even today. As is now our custom, here’s a little lagniappe (pronounced “lan-yap,” which means something extra):

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  • Spousal Disability Benefits:  Deemed filing does not apply spousal benefits on the covered worker’s disability benefits.
  • Spousal Survivorship Benefits:  A widow or widower who has reached full retirement age receives 100% of the deceased spouse’s PIA. Deemed filing does not apply.

Stay tuned - next up in this Social Security blog series is “free college funding” for second-marriage families with young children.