Filing Rules for Retirement and Spouses Benefits
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 made some changes to Social Security’s laws about filing for retirement and spousal benefits.
Determining when to start your Social Security benefits is a personal decision. We encourage you to research your options before you apply for benefits.
First Change: Timing of Multiple Benefits
(also called “Deemed Filing”)
There are incentives to delay filing for retirement benefits. Your benefits increase for each month you delay receiving retirement benefits between full retirement age and age 70.
Before the change:
Previously some spouses received spousal benefits at full retirement age, while letting the retirement benefits based on their earnings record grow by delaying to file for benefits.
What did the law change?
If you turn 62 before January 2, 2016, and:
- You are eligible for benefits both as a retired worker and as a spouse (or divorced spouse) in the first month you want your benefits to begin and
- You are not yet full retirement age, you must apply for both benefits (known as deemed filing). You will receive the higher of the two benefits.
If you turn 62 on or after January 2, 2016, and:
- You are eligible for benefits both as a retired worker and as a spouse (or divorced spouse) in the first month you want your benefits to begin, then:
- Deemed filing applies at age 62 and extends to full retirement age and beyond. In addition, deemed filing may occur in any month after becoming entitled to retirement benefits.
Deemed filing means that when you file for either your retirement or your spouse’s benefit, you are required or “deemed” to file for the other benefit as well. The Bipartisan Budget Act extends deemed filing rules to apply at full retirement age and beyond.
What is the reason for this change? Historically, if spousal benefits were higher than their own retirement benefit, they received a combination of benefits equaling the higher benefit. This change in the law preserves the fairness of the incentives to delay, but it means that you cannot receive one type of benefit while at the same time earning a bonus for delaying the other benefit.
Exceptions to Deemed Filing
Deemed filing applies to retirement benefits, not survivor’s benefits. If you are a widow or widower, you may start your survivor benefit independently of your retirement benefit.
Deemed filing also does not apply if you receive spouse's benefits and are entitled to disability, or if you are receiving spousal benefits because you are caring for the retired worker’s child.
Examples of Deemed Filing Rules
Example 1: Maria turns age 62 after January 1, 2016. Her husband, Joe, is 65. They have each worked enough years to earn a retirement benefit. In March of 2020, Maria has reached her full retirement age and files for benefits. Maria is eligible for a spousal benefit on Joe’s record. Maria must file for both benefits. She can no longer file only for the spousal benefit and delay filing for her own retirement. She will receive a combination of the two benefits that equals the higher amount.
Example 2: Jennie is a 62-year-old widow. She is eligible for retirement benefits based on her work history, and she is also eligible for survivor benefits based on her deceased husband’s record. She starts her survivor benefit this year and only applies for widow’s benefits. She does not start her own retirement benefit, allowing it to grow. At age 70, she starts her own increased retirement benefit, which she will receive for the rest of her life. The new law does not affect her because deemed filing does not apply to widows and widowers. Jennie will receive the higher of the two benefits
Second Change: Voluntary Suspension of Benefits
(also called “File and Suspend”)
Before the change:
- A worker at full retirement age or older applied for retirement benefits and then voluntarily suspended payment of their retirement benefits.
- The worker’s voluntary suspension permitted a spousal benefit to be paid to their spouse while the worker was not collecting retirement benefits.
- The worker would then restart their retirement benefits later, for example at age 70, with an increase for every month retirement benefits were suspended.
How did the law change?
For requests submitted on or after April 30, 2016:
- You can still voluntarily suspend benefit payments at your full retirement age to earn higher benefits for delaying.
- During a voluntary suspension, other benefits payable on your record, such as benefits to your spouse, are also suspended.
- If you have suspended your benefits, you cannot continue receiving other benefits (such as spousal benefits) on another person’s record.
There are some exceptions. If you are a divorced spouse, you can continue receiving a divorced spousal benefit even if your ex-spouse voluntarily suspends his or her retirement benefit.
What is the reason for this change? It makes it fair to delay payments for the workers spouse, and dependents if the worker has not retired or is in suspense. Couples can no longer simultaneously receive a benefit and get a bonus for delaying to file.