The budget deal passed by Congress last month included a provision that would end some Social Security claiming strategies used by couples.
The strategies, known as file-and-suspend, or claim-and-suspend, and restricted applications for spousal benefits, would end under the legislation, although retirees will be able to still use the strategies for about six more months.
“With file and suspend, a husband could go down to the Social Security office and file for his retirement benefit,” explained Joshua Mellberg, an investment advisory representative and licensed insurance agent at J.D. Mellberg Financial. “As soon as he files for his retirement benefit, the spouse can now file for her spousal benefit. And as soon as the spouse files for their spousal benefit, the original spouse that filed for the retirement benefit could now suspend it. So they never actually received a paycheck. If the full retirement benefit was $2,000, the spousal benefit would have been 50 percent of that, which would be $1,000 a month, so for many couples, it would be between $40,000 and $50,000 additional money over a four-year period, that the government just closed out completely.”
With a restricted application for spousal benefit, an individual who is at full retirement age files only for the spousal benefit, but not immediately for the full benefits available to both spouses, allowing their future benefits to grow.
Mellberg believes the legislative changes will mean more clients will need to consult a tax or financial professional for advice. “A lot of professionals will have to go back to the consumer and talk to them on how they have to change their retirement income plan,” said Mellberg. “It means they can work one to three years more because of these loopholes being closed that were factored into their retirement income plan.”
However, couples will be grandfathered until the end of next April. “If you are within this 65 to 70 year age range, and one of the spouses has not turned on Social Security, you are eligible to take advantage of this over the next less than six months,” said Mellberg. “If you’re past those ages, then it completely changes when you potentially may be able to retire. A lot of people were factoring in that extra $50,000 of income within that short four-year period in their retirement income plan.”