A Case Study in Receiving the Maximum Social Security Benefits
John and Jane Smith, married in their late 60s, approached us for advice on how to receive the maximum social security benefits. Jane had gone through the process of claiming Social Security six months prior to contacting us at her “full retirement age” of 67. Husband John was still working, and they wanted our advice on how his timing of claiming benefits could maximize long-term benefits as well as input on any nuances they might be missing.
During the Social Security Analysis segment of our financial planning process, we discovered that the Smiths qualified for what is referred to as a “Restricted Application,” a little-known claiming strategy available to people born prior to 1954.
Here’s how the strategy works:
John, the higher-earning spouse who is still working at age 68, “restricts” his application to the 50% spousal benefit WHILE HE’S WORKING! So he receives “spousal benefit” social security payments in addition to his regular income. Usually, we think of the lower-earning spouse as receiving the spousal benefit. But if both husband and wife qualify for Social Security benefits on their own earnings records, then either the wife or the husband can collect benefits based on the other’s earnings record.
To accomplish this, there are certain requirements. First, the individuals must have been born prior to 1954. Additionally, the lower-earning spouse, in this case Jane, must have already filed for benefits. Upon reaching age 70, John, the higher earning spouse, will switch to his maximum benefit—including the full delayed credits of 8% per year for waiting until maximum age of 70—while Jane will switch to the 50% spousal benefit of his number. Meanwhile, for two years from age 68 to 70, John receives a spousal benefit, which the Smiths weren’t aware of.
$19,290 of additional Social Security benefits for (2) years
John’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) is $3,245. Jane’s PIA is $1.486.50. Jane filed for her benefit at age 67. John files for his spousal benefit at the same time and begins collecting $743 a month, which is half of Jane’s PIA. John will also receive up to 6 months of benefits retroactively in a single check from the SSA—in this case $3,858.
When John turns 70, he switches to his maximum benefit, $4,369 monthly, and Jane adds her spousal benefit of John, increasing her monthly amount by an additional $138 monthly to $1624.50. This has been such a great strategy that Congress considers it a loophole and is phasing out the option. However, if you were 62 or older at the end of 2015 – born before 1954 – you are still eligible to file a “restricted” application for spousal benefits when you turn full retirement age, pending the other factors mentioned above.
For the Smith Family this will result in $19,290 of additional unexpected Social Security benefits for the next (2) years, and then maximum payout throughout retirement.
It’s a must to analyze the best strategy for claiming social security benefits, especially for married couples. We’ve seen scenarios in which the difference between two strategies has meant millions of dollars—yes, millions—in additional benefit income for married couples over a long retirement lifetime over multiple decades.
About the Author: Andrew Trammell
Andrew is Certified Financial Planner™ PROFESSIONAL who holds a Master of Science in Financial Planning. He manages financial planning at Cary Stamp & Co., Principled Wealth Advisors, based in Jupiter, FL.
This is a case study and is for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance and results will vary. This case study does not constitute a recommendation as to the suitability of any investment for any person or persons having circumstances similar to those portrayed, and a financial advisor should be consulted. This case study does not represent actual clients but a hypothetical composite of various client experiences and issues. Any resemblance to actual people or situations is purely coincidental.
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