This is the last year that spouses who are turning full retirement age can choose whether to take spousal benefits or to take benefits on their own record. The strategy, used by some couples to maximize their benefits, will not be available to people turning full retirement age after 2019.
The claiming strategy — sometimes known as “Claim Now, Claim More Later” — allows a higher-earning spouse to claim a spousal benefit at full retirement age by filing a restricted application for benefits. While receiving the spousal benefit, the higher-earning spouse’s regular retirement benefit continues to increase. Then at 70, the higher-earning spouse can claim the maximum amount of his or her retirement benefit and stop receiving the spousal benefit. To use this strategy, the lower-earning spouse must also be claiming benefits. Workers cannot claim spousal benefits unless their spouses are also claiming benefits.
A 2015 budget law began phasing out the strategy. If you were 62 or older by the end of 2015, you are still able to choose which benefit you want at your full retirement age. However, when workers who were not 62 by the end of 2015 apply for spousal benefits, Social Security will assume it is also an application for benefits on the worker’s record. The worker is eligible for the higher benefit, but he or she can’t choose to take just the spousal benefits and allow his or her own benefits to keep increasing until age 70.
The budget law’s phase-out of the claiming strategy does not apply to survivor’s benefits and benefits on an ex-spouses record. Surviving spouses will still be able to choose to take survivor’s benefits first and then switch to retirement benefits later if the retirement benefit is larger. Ex-spouses who are divorced for two or more years can also file a restricted application for spousal benefits and wait to claim on their own record.