The File and Suspend Tactic for Social Security Benefits

This is another provision of the Social Security system that is filed under the “Little Known Facts” section – although it is becoming more known these days.  How it works and what’s important about it is the subject of this article.

How File and Suspend Works and Why It’s Important

Any worker can establish a benefit amount by applying at any time after the Full Retirement Age – but he or she doesn’t have to continue receiving that benefit.  The worker can immediately suspend the receipt of benefits, so that seemingly the application is moot.  However, what this has done is establish a “base” for the worker’s spouse to begin receiving benefits based upon that amount. Here’s an example: A worker is at Full Retirement Age (FRA), and his or her spouse is the same age.  Since the spouse of the worker has a much lower benefit available based on his or her own record, and as such is looking forward to utilizing the primary wage earner’s earnings record to receive the Spousal Benefit. At the same time, the couple prefers to delay receiving the primary wage earner’s benefit as long as possible, to age 70, in order to receive the maximum increases (see here for more details).  In order to achieve both goals, the primary wage earner applies for benefits at FRA, and then immediately suspends receiving the benefit.  This establishes the amount that the lower-wage earning spouse can begin receiving in Spousal Benefits, while at the same time allows the primary wage earning spouse’s record to continue increasing in value until he or she reaches age 70, the maximum age to delay.

How To Do It

The mechanics of this option did not become available until 2000, and as such (believe it or not) sometimes the Social Security Administration (SSA) personnel are not aware of this option.  It is still not available to be applied for online (as are most other benefit options) so you need to visit your local SSA office to complete the process. In order to ensure that the SSA personnel are clear about what you’re doing, you should download the Social Security Legislative Bulletin 106-20 (available at this link) which explains the provision fully.  The provision is part of the Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act of 2000 – and the third bullet point of the Bulletin is what you want to point out as proof that you can pull this number. Soon enough, SSA personnel are going to get this one straight as more and more folks do this maneuver, so be patient with them, and download the bulletin and take it with you to make sure you get what you’re asking for. IRS CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. tax advice contained in this communication (or in any attachment) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed in this communication (or in any attachment).

About the author

Jim Blankenship, CFP®, EA

Jim Blankenship is the founder and principal of Blankenship Financial Planning, Ltd., a financial planning firm providing hourly, as-needed financial planning and advice. A financial services professional for over 25 years, Jim is a CFP professional and has earned the Enrolled Agent designation, a designation that qualifies him as enrolled to practice before the IRS. Jim is also a NAPFA-registered financial advisor, which designates him as a Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

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  • Hi Jim, I am 63 divorced and live with my 15 year old son. Can I file for retirement to get benefits for my son and then suspend and continue getting benefits for him until he graduates from High School? If I suspend, would that affect his benefits amount?

    • The answer is no, for two reasons:

      1) You cannot file and suspend if you are under Full Retirement Age (66).
      2) If you were born after May 1, 1950 and you suspend benefits, your dependents will not be eligible to receive benefits based on your record while your benefits are suspended.

  • Based on latest news reports (around Nov 18, 2015)….is this no longer available to those of us who are NOW 62…..but intended to use this provision after we are 66 ( up to age 70?). Seems we are no longer eligible to do this…. just great !!! 🙁

    • That’s correct – if you are not at FRA by April 30, 2016 you will not be eligible to use file and suspend under the old rules. If you file and suspend after that age then no other benefits can be paid based on your record while your benefits are suspended.


  • If a husband does a file & suspend at 66, and his wife files a restricted app for spousal benefits 2 years later when she turns 66, what are the wife’s options re Social Security if the husband dies suddenly after the wife begins collecting spousal benefits? Assume the husband’s sudden death does not allow him to unsuspend. If he dies suddenly between 68-70 can his wife collect his age 70 benefit on the date he would have turned 70 had he lived?

    • Jim,

      If the situation you describe does occur, the surviving wife would be eligible for survivor benefits with delay credits accrued to the date of death of the husband. So if the husband died at age 68, she’d get a survivor benefit as if he had started (unsuspended) as of the date of his death.


  • If my husband files and suspends at his full retirement age and I choose to apply for 1/2 of his benefits, at that same time which is 12 months before my full retirement age, I believe that I’ll receive less than 1/2.

    When I start to receive my benefit at age 70, will it be reduced FOREVER because of the decision that I made to collect half of his benefits at 65?

    • Yes, if you file for spousal benefits before you reach Full Retirement Age, you will receive less than 50% of your spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount (the amount he would receive if he filed for benefits at his FRA). That is, UNLESS your own benefit would be greater than 50% of your husband’s PIA – because if you file for spousal benefits prior to reaching FRA, you are deemed to have filed for your own benefit as well, and it would also be reduced. You would only (effectively) receive the larger of the two benefits, and there would be no increased benefit available to you at age 70.

      So the answer to your question is yes, your age 70 benefit will be reduced – but much more than what you thought the reduction would be, and also for a different reason.


      • If I wait until I’m at FRA before requesting half of his benefit, will that reduce what I collect at age 70 and thereafter. It sounds like it will.

        • Ok – there are a few things you need to understand:

          1) if you file for spousal benefits before your FRA, you are deemed to have filed for ALL available benefits – the spousal and your own benefit.
          2) if you have filed before FRA for both the spousal and your own benefit and you suspend your own benefit at FRA, all you will receive is the excess spousal benefit, the amount that is above your own benefit.
          3) if you’ve filed for your own benefit prior to FRA and you suspend benefits at FRA, later at age 70 filing for the benefit again, you would not receive the maximum benefit. This is because your original filing reduced your benefits, and it is against that reduced amount that the delay credits are applied.

          For example (illustrating all three concepts):
          Your own benefit would be $800 at your FRA. Your spouse’s benefit at FRA would be $2,000.

          If you file for spousal benefits at age 65, you are deemed to have filed for both your own benefit and the spousal benefit. This would work out to approximately $746 for your own benefit and $116 for the excess spousal benefit, for a total of $862.

          If you then suspend your own benefit at FRA, you will continue to receive the excess spousal benefit of $116 per month. Filing later at age 70, your delay credited benefit would calculate to approximately $984, which is your reduced earlier benefit of $746 times 132%.


  • Consider this scenario:
    1. My FRA is June, 2015
    2. I’m planning to work (with FICA being withheld) until end of 2016
    3. I file and suspend in June 2015 so my wife can apply for spousal benefits
    4. I plan to file for benefits in Jan 2017

    When filing and suspending in June 2015, is my PIA based on my life-time earnings thru 2014? When do my earnings in 2015 contribute to my PIA and in wife’s spousal benefits?

    Similarly, when I “re-file” for benefits in Jan 2017, I believe I should receive an additional 12% for the delayed benefits (18 months delayed retirement). But since I also continued working thru 2016, is my PIA adjusted to reflect these earning? If so, do I receive 1.12 times this adjusted PIA?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Yes, when you file in 2015 your PIA will be based on your most recent earning on record.

      If your additional years of earnings result in an increase to your lifetime average indexed earnings, your PIA will be adjusted. If you don’t believe that this was done automatically, you can request the SSA to perform a recalculation of your benefits.

      When you have accrued Delay Credits, these are applied against your recalculated PIA, whenever it is recalculated.


  • Hi Jim,

    Great information. I’ve read all of the threads and can’t find anything that exactly matches my situation. First let me say that maximizing benefits is what’s most important. I’m ignoring the fact I may die at 71 or that I may need money at any time before 70. I don’t want to do anything that locks in a reduction of benefits after age 70 and I don’t want to do anything involving the payback of benefits received and then starting over.

    My wife will be at FRA (66) in October 2015. I will be at FRA in March of 2016. Both of our benefits are very close in value – roughly $2450 at FRA and $3365 at age 70.

    I’m assuming that she should file and suspend at her FRA and that I should apply for spousal benefits at my FRA. At this point I should be collecting 1/2 of $2450 = $1225.

    She would then start collecting $3365 in October 2019 when she is 70 and my spousal benefit would jump to half of that ($1682).

    Six months later in March of 2020 when I’m 70, I would start collecting my own benefit of $3365.

    Have I got that right?

    Thanks in advance.

    • You’re right about everything except the “jump” in spousal benefits when you wife files at her age 70. Spousal benefits are at most 50% of the other spouse’s FRA-age benefit. There is no increase for the delay factor as there is with your own retirement benefits.


  • Hi. I filed/suspended my benefit and my spouse is drawing a spousal benefit. I thought I recently read where cola’s continue to accrue until I start drawing my benefit at 70. Can you explain how cola’s are handled in this case? Thanks.

  • Can a spouse File and Suspend at 69 so the other spouse just turn 66 can take the spousal benefit (1/2) on the 69 account and both later can file for their own max. benefit when each reach 70?

  • Don –

    File and Suspend is not available until you reach Full Retirement Age, which would be 66 for you. At that point you could File and Suspend, although that would mean four fewer years of benefits to set aside for the twins.

    Hope this helps –


  • Jim,

    I am 61 work and have twin boys who are 6. My wife is 53 and works. When I am 62 in a year, and the boys are 7, can I file and suspend and get my sons started on benifits that I would put into a college 529 plan. I would like to work on for 2 or 3 more years after I file and suspend. Can I do that?

    Thanks, Don

  • JoAnn –

    Your husband is the one that would file and suspend in order for you to receive the Spousal Benefit. Unfortunately, he can’t File and Suspend until FRA.

    If he were to file at his age 62, you would then be eligible for Spousal Benefits when you file at age 62, but his (and your) benefits will be permanently reduced by filing early.

    It’s not surprising that the SS office has never heard of it – I hear that all the time from folks who bring this up. But it’s been an option for eleven years now, coming into play in 2000. As mentioned in the article above, you can print out the document at the link which explains how F&S works.

    But in your case, File & Suspend wouldn’t come into play for another four-plus years, so you may not ever actually use it.

    Hope this helps –


  • Jim,
    Husb will be 62 on 12/22/11, and I will be on 1/2/12. I am not collecting a paycheck. Wanted to File and Suspend at 62 based on Husbands, as it would give me 200 more a month.(My amount would normally be 700+).
    1) Do we have to be FRA (66?) to File & Suspend?
    2)We are looking at Taxes to see if would put us in higher bracket.
    3)Our SS Office “had never heard of it” when we called to make an appt. Is there anyone who will know how to do this?
    Thanks for your help.

  • Hello, James –

    Taking your questions one by one, considering each paragraph under the QUESTIONS heading as a separate question:

    1) If you file early, any Survivor Benefit that your wife might receive would be reduced to the amount of your actual benefit (plus COLAs). Your wife might file for the Survivor Benefit if you passed away before the children were age 16, and/or if you passed away prior to her chosen time to file for her own benefit (such as between her FRA and age 70). But otherwise since her projected benefit is higher than your early benefit, she would not take the Survivor Benefit from age 70 onward.

    2) I know of no reason why you wouldn’t file now, unless you wanted to delay to FRA to receive a larger benefit (and childrens’ benefits), but then you’d be giving up the four years of the reduced benefits for yourself and the children.

    3) not a question

    4) No, your Spousal Benefit would (at maximum) be 50% of your wife’s PIA, which is roughly equivalent to her benefit at FRA. So you would be eligible for a Spousal Benefit of up to $1,259.50. This is less than your own regular benefit, so no further calculations are needed here.

    5) I honestly have no idea what the chance of repeal or change of F&S might be. Not that this is any indication, but a great number of folks that work in the SSA don’t even know it exists. It’s not quite as blatant of a giveaway as the former “withdraw and payback” option was, so maybe it will remain for a while. In your case, it shouldn’t make a difference though, as illustrated in #4 above.

    Hope this helps –


  • You are truly a treasure trove of info. I’ve read the entire thread and I still have a different situation from those described.

    Husband 62 at home 10+ years, wife 47 working, children 4 and 7. Wife’s SS benefits and lifetime income have now surpassed husbands and his “estimated” benefits went down this year for the first time. I no longer qualify for disability due to being out of workforce so long. Even though we do not currently need the money, I wanted to file now at 62 and take the children’s tax free benefits to put into 529’s. From my understanding some portion of my personal benefit would be taxable at our current tax rate and since my wife’s salary continues to increase her SS benefits continue to increase. I think, my filing at 62 should have no impact on her future benefits because she can file against her own wages at either FRA or 70.

    Does my filing effect the survivor benefit if my 62yo benefit and each child’s benefit are both about $1500? Maximum family is $3510 which is almost identical to what my benefit plus the two children’s benefits would be.($3024)

    Why wouldn’t I file now at 62 for my reduced benefits, invest the children benefits and then when my wife takes benefits at 70 I could get a spousal benefit that is possibly higher than my reduced current benefit.

    Her estimates for 62, FRA and 70 are 1689, 2519, 3142
    My estimates for 62, FRA and 70 are 1512, 2005 2647

    When she is 70 I will (hopefully) be 85. From the above I would receive $1571 or 50% which is more than my projected reduced benefit without possible COLA.

    Lastly, what is the chance that FILE and SUSPEND will be changed/cancelled in the next 4 years with every boomer wiht young children in the US looking at this.


  • You are truly a treasure trove of info. I’ve read the entire thread and I still have a different situation from those described.

    Husband 62 at home 10+ years, wife 47 working, children 4 and 7. Wife’s SS benefits and lifetime income have now surpassed husbands and his “estimated” benefits went down this year for the first time. I no longer qualify for disability due to being out of workforce so long. Even though we do not currently need the money, I wanted to file now at 62 and take the children’s tax free benefits to put into 529’s. From my understanding some portion of my personal benefit would be taxable at our current tax rate and since my wife’s salary continues to increase her SS benefits continue to increase. I think, my filing at 62 should have no impact on her future benefits because she can file against her own wages at either FRA or 70.

    Does my filing effect the survivor benefit if my 62yo benefit and each child’s benefit are both about $1500? Maximum family is $3510 which is almost identical to what my benefit plus the two children’s benefits would be.($3024)

    Why wouldn’t I file now at 62 for my reduced benefits, invest the children benefits and then when my wife takes benefits at 70 I could get a spousal benefit that is possibly higher than my reduced current benefit.

    Her estimates for 62, FRA and 70 are 1689, 2519, 3142
    My estimates for 62, FRA and 70 are 1512, 2005 2647

    When she is 70 I will (hopefully) be 85. From the above I would receive $1571 or 50% which is more than my projected reduced benefit without possible COLA.

    Lastly, what is the chance that FILE and SUSPEND will be changed/cancelled in the next 4 years with every boomer wiht young children in the US looking at this.

    JB Royal

  • Jerry –

    I confirmed this with my source at SSA – the act of “File and Suspend” only impacts the worker (referred to as a “Numberholder” in SSA parlance). In other words, the child benefits will be allowed if you file and suspend at or after FRA, just the same as a Spousal benefit.

    If you need to quote a source to someone at SSA, this comes from POMS, section GN 02409.110 Conditions for Voluntary Suspension, item #2.

    Hope this helps –


  • Lynn –

    Sounds like you’re on the right track in your understanding of the situation. Glad to be of help.

    Best wishes –


  • I called SS two times today and both times got the same answer. The people I spoke to said that a child cannot collect benefits on my account if I am not collecting on my account also. Therefore, if I apply and suspend, my 15-year old child cannot collect during the suspension period between age 66 and 70. I follow the argument that the strategy is focused on the “entiled” language in the SS regs 20CFR 404.350, but if SS says no, then all the arguments mean nothing. Granted, I was talking to SS folks on the phone so it may not be reliable. Do you have any authority for this strategy, like a SS ruling or court case?

  • Thanks, Jim, for your very prompt respose. Now we just have to figure out when I should start taking benefits–at FRA or later!
    Apparently the question lots of us struggle with.

    Some preliminary calculations indicate that regardless of whether I begin taking benefits at my FRA (66 in my case), or suspend six months, a year or two years, the “break even” age doesn’t vary much from about 80 years old (back of the envelope calculations, not factoring in discount rates, CPI changes, etc.). So the benefits from suspending for almost any length of time from FRA up to age 70 start accruing at around age 80, and of course add up the longer you survive past 80. Then if my wife survives me she will do better if I suspend for almost any period of time between FRA and 70, and could receive as much as 25% more from age 80 to 90 if I suspend for even a couple of years. Is this correct?

    Thanks again. You are a wonderful resource!


  • Pat –

    Only one spouse can file and suspend at a time (if the other is receiving Spousal Benefits based on the first spouse’s record). You can both delay, but you can’t both receive the Spousal Benefit for a filed/suspended worker.

    In other words, at your FRA, one of you could file and suspend (probably your wife), and the other (probably you) could begin receiving Spousal Benefits. Neither of you at this point is receiving benefits based on your own record, so you are accruing Delayed Retirement Credits on your own record. When each of you reaches age 70, you can then file to begin receiving your own benefit.

    The reason I said it was probably you that would begin the Spousal Benefit is because you’ll have four years to receive the Spousal Benefit and continue with the DRC’s, while your wife would only have three years to receive the Spousal Benefit.

    Hope this helps –


  • Lynn –

    Two problems with your suggested direction:

    1) you can’t file and suspend until you reach FRA
    2) if your wife files for Spousal Benefit before her FRA, there is no “reset” at FRA.

    So, I’d just wait until FRA and file/suspend and then your wife can receive her Spousal Benefit at that point in time. She can delay filing for her own benefit until age 70, which may have result in an increase for her, since the Spousal Benefit is based on a differential. She doesn’t have to have filed for her own benefit in order to receive the Spousal Benefit if she’s at least FRA.

    Hope this helps –


  • Anne –

    Your Spouse will receive half of the amount that you would have received had you delayed to FRA – since he’s beyond FRA.

    And you’re correct, when you reach age 62, as long as you’ve worked at least 10 years in a Medicare-covered job, your spouse (over age 65) will be eligible for Part A with no cost. If he has not filed for Medicare previously, he may face a higher Part B cost since he did not file at age 65 – this is something to check with Medicare about.

    Hope this helps –


  • Jim, wife is fra in a few months and I in a year and we have very similar PIA’s.

    Can we each file and suspend at our respective FRa’s. And then each of us apply for spouse benefit when I reach FRA. And while we are both taking spouse benefit will out delayed retirement credits build up so that at 70 we can both start taking old age which should be equal to
    Our Pia’s plus 32%.


  • Jim–sorry, one further clarification. My wife has the full 40 credits toward her benefit, although half of my benefit (according to current calculations) will be larger than if she applied on her own. Thanks–again, apologize for the addendum.

  • Jim–

    Question regarding timing. My wife and I both reach FRA in August 2011, although I am still working and don’t plan to retire until early 2012. Can I apply now (in April) and suspend, and have my wife apply at the same time to receive her reduced benefit, which would then be reset to half of mine when she reaches FRA in August?

  • Hi, Jim; when i am 62 my spouse will be 76. If I file for benefits then, I would receive $547/mo. would my spouse receive half of that, half the $768 I would receive by waiting until 66, or half the $1,059 by waiting till 70, since well past the FRA?
    Am I correct in understanding a non-working spouse can get Medicare Part A paid for once the working spouse becomes 62 – would I have to apply for early benefits for this to happen?
    Thanks so much

  • Yes, Bob, I believe you have the calculation done correctly.

    And yes, your benefit will continue to accrue the Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) if you file and suspend and wait until a later date to begin receiving your benefit, even though your wife is receiving Spousal Benefits based upon your PIA.

    Hope this helps –


  • John,

    You’ve got it right, just one number in your comment was incorrect. if your second-to-last sentence were changed to read:

    “So when she turns 70, our combined amount will be $3,080 + $1,906 = $4,986/month plus any cost of living adjustments.”

    The final result is the same, you just had the wrong number in your calculation.


  • Scott –

    Wait a minute – when your wife is receiving the Spousal Benefit prior to FRA, there is no “switching over” at FRA.

    (I’ve only recently come to fully understand this, so hang on…)

    If you file (doesn’t matter if you suspend), your wife can begin taking Spousal Benefits at any time after age 62. But – if she starts taking the Spousal Benefit prior to her own FRA, the SSA considers that she has also filed for her own benefit, and therefore her benefits will be permanently reduced for that reason.

    Sorry for the previous confusion that may have come from other comments I’ve made.


  • Jim,

    Both my wife and I are 56. At FRA she will have $725 and I will have $2482 in benefits. If she starts collecting at age 62 she will get $541 and if she waits till 66 she can start collecting 1/2 the spousal benefit of $1241. My understanding is that her benefit at age 66 if she starts collecting her benefit at age 62 of $541 is calculated as the difference of $1241-$725(her RFA) + the $541 for a total benefit of $1057. Is that correct? Also,if I file and suspsned my benefit will grow till I decide to start collecting again?

  • Do I have this correct?
    I am 68 and my wife is 66 so we are both at FRA. My SS benefit today would be $2673 and my wife’s at this point in time would be $1,373.
    At 70 years of age, my SS benefit will be $3,080 and my wife’s when she turns 70 will be $1,906.
    If I understand you correctly, if I file and suspend, my wife can then collect $1,337, which is 1/2 of $2673, what my present benefit would be.
    She can collect this until she reaches 70 and then start collecting her own $1,906.
    I will start collecting my $3,080 when I’m 70. So when she turns 70, our combined amount will be $3,080 + $2673 = $4,986/month plus any cost of living adjustments.
    Have I got this correct?

  • OK, so there really isn’t a reason for us to NOT do file and suspend then as far as I can tell? If we file and suspend she starts drawing off of my record until she hits her FRA and then switches over? And I can “un-suspend” my benefit at any time and start drawing my benefit while she continues to draw the same amount?

  • Scott, if you file and suspend this will have no impact on your wife’s future benefit, the impact comes when she decides to file either for her own or for her Spousal Benefit. If she files for either prior to FRA, then future benefits for her will be impacted. The only future benefit for her that is not impacted by her choice of date to take benefits is her potential Survivor benefit, which is always based upon your own benefit.

    Hope this helps –


  • Thanks for the response, Jim. I dont’ really need the benefits currently, but am looking at stopping with the self employment in the next couple of years. My wife also has self employment income, as she works for our company.

    If I were to do file and suspend, say at FRA, would that hurt my wife’s future benefit? I guess this would be a situation similar to Gary’s above.


  • Misty –

    I think you may have things a bit tangled up in your understanding… At your FRA you could File and Suspend which would allow your husband to begin taking a Spousal Benefit increase up to approximately 50% of your Primary Insurance Amount. At the same time, since you’re suspended, your benefit will continue to grow to your age 70 (or whatever age prior to 70 that you decide to begin taking the benefit).

    This will give you the greatest income in later years, as you suggest. But as you have read in all of the comments and the articles on the subject, it’s not a simple matter. There are many things to consider and work the numbers for.

    Hope this helps –


  • Scott,

    I don’t know of any calculators other than the ones at the SSA website. I recognize that they are limited in working out plans including File & Suspend, but they should give you a place to start from. You could then put together a spreadsheet on your own to work through more of the calculations.

    Regarding strategies, you should look at the File & Suspend option, especially since you’re still working (I think that’s what you indicated?). This would allow your wife to begin taking a reduced benefit either at your FRA or a 50% benefit at her FRA.

    The first question is – do you need the benefits sooner rather than later? If later, then delaying should work in your favor. Additionally, are you allocating any of the SE income to your wife – or will that make a difference?

    As you can see, it’s not a simple answer to a simple question. There are many things to take into account.

    I wish you well –


  • Hi Jim,

    Your column is very interesting, I read it all, am still not sure what the best strategy would be for us. My husband is 68 and started collecting a small benefit at FRA as he did not contribute for many years. I am going on 65, worked for 30+ years, am entitled to a fairly large benefit, and plan to wait until FRA to apply. When I reach FRA, would it be best to File and Suspend and just collect my small spousal benefit, so that our combined income in later years is higher? Please advise, and thank you!

  • Hi Jim-

    Wow, what a convoluted mess most things government related are! Thanks for taking the time to clarify a lot of this information for us.

    Is there a site that you would recommend to run different SS scenarios? The calculators I have seen are pretty limited in that they don’t allow for some of these file and suspend options.

    I am 64 (1/30/1947) and my FRA is 66. My wife is 61 (8/2/1949) and has the same FRA. My wife was a homemaker for much of my working career, and as such my estimated benefit is much higher than hers. We currently own our own small business and pull a small income from it. We are both of “average” health and for the purposes of this type of thing assume we’ll reach life expectancy. Do you have suggestions on strategies we should utilize?

    Thanks in advance,

  • Jerry –

    File and suspend is not available until you reach Full Retirement Age. If you file for your benefits at age 62 (and receive the permanent reduction by doing so) your wife could file for spousal benefits at that point. It’s possible that the spousal benefit could make up the difference for your taking the early benefit since your wife is at FRA – you’d want to run the numbers to be certain.

    Keep in mind though, that the age when you begin taking benefits has an impact on any future Survivor Benefit that your wife might be entitled to if you pre-deceased her.

    Hope this helps –


  • Jim,

    I am 62 and my wife is 67, she does not have enough credits for any SS income. Can I file and suspend at 62 so she could receive a spousal benefit, or do I have to be at 66 years to do this?

  • Hello, Paul –

    Although I like the way you think, unfortunately, only one spouse can claim Spousal Benefits at a time – the other has to either be voluntarily suspended after filing, or actively receiving his or her own benefit.

    In your case, you’re only giving up 3/4 of a year of Spousal Benefits, it could be worse. If you were both the same age, for example, you’d have four years to give up.

    Hope this helps –


    • I believe I understand the file and suspend strategy–with one exception. The law says that only one spouse can be drawing spousal benefits at one time, correct? Can spouses draw, one at a time, sequentially? My husband is 1.5 years older than I am. I will have the larger SS benefit. So, at 66yrs (FRA) can my husband draw his spousal benefit if I file and suspend , and then–when he hits 70yrs in 1.5 years, can I draw spousal benefits on his SS claim?

      • Kathy –

        While technically this could be done, the outcome is likely not going to be what you think. The first part, where you file & suspend and your husband collects the spousal benefit until he reaches age 70 is fine. But when your husband files for his own benefit and you file for the spousal benefit, all you will be receiving at that point is the offset or difference between your own benefit and 50% of his FRA benefit (not his current, age 70 benefit). This is because you filed and suspended, so your benefit is removed from the available spousal benefit.

        An example would be: your benefit at age 66 is $800 and your husband’s benefit at his age 66 is $2000. You file & suspend and he collects $400 (50% of yours) until he reaches age 70. At his age 70 he files for his own benefit and you file for the spousal. The spousal offset for you would be $200, calculated as 50% of his age 66 benefit ($2000 * 50% = $1,000) minus your age 66 benefit of $800.

        Hope this helps –


  • Hi Jim,
    When I am 69 1/4 yrs and my wife is 66 I intend to “file and suspend” for my work record benefits so my wife can file for spousal benefits and continue to get Delayed Retirement Credits (DRC). At age 70 she will file for her Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) plus 32% based or her own work record.

    When I am 69 1/4, (my wife will be 66) she will “file and suspend” so I can file for spousal benefits based on her work record and I can continue to get DRC’s. At age 70 I will start receiving my PIA plus 32% based on my work record.

    When I phone the SSA they do not know about “file and suspend” even when I tell them about Social Security Legislative Bulletin #106-20. They say “things change all the time”. When I look through SSA website FAQ and search for “File and Suspend” I find nothing. How do I proceed from here?

    Can both spouses receive “spousal benefits” while continuing to accumulate DRC’s?
    Paul P.

  • Joanne –

    File and Suspend is not available until you reach Full Retirement Age. Your husband is 62, so he would not yet be eligible to File and Suspend.


  • Erin –

    If you’re already at the maximum, I don’t see a good reason to apply for additional benefits – unless the maximum is increased somehow. If additional benefits are applied for, all currently-paying benefit amounts will be reduced proportionately to the maximum level.


  • Im quite confused about the family maximum. My husband is 51, I am 31, he’s on disability. We have one son together who is 4 yrs, and I have a daughter from a previous relationship,who is 12 yrs. Our son recieves a check for half of what my husband gets every month for disability. It’s come to my attention that I don’t have to wait one year to apply for spousal benefits because of our son. What would the benefit of applying for spousal benefits be if we’re already recieving the family maximum? We don’t each recieve 50% of my husbands rate, do we

  • Hello, Pete –

    At your death, your wife would be eligible for the Survivor’s Benefit, which would be equal to your presently-available benefit. The calculation is made as if you had filed to receive your benefit at the age you have attained at your death. So the closer that you are to age 70, the greater the Survivor’s Benefit.

    Take care,


  • Hi Jim, If I am between 66 and 70 in file and suspend status and my wife is older than 66 and collecting a spousal benefit (with no work history), what benefit will my wife receive if I die during that time frame? Her continuing spousal benefit? My full benefit at whatever age I had reached? A survivors benefit? Some combination of these? Would whatever benefit received be larger the closer I would be to age 70? Thanks, Pete

  • Tom,

    You’ve got it (regarding the optimal strategy to maximize).

    Your wife’s maximum Spousal Benefit will always be calculated on your PIA at your FRA (adjusted for COLAs). Your “delay credits” for waiting to receive your own benefit at age 70 will not influence her benefit at all. In other words, when you File & Suspend at her FRA and she takes the Spousal Benefit, your delay credits will not increase her Spousal Benefit. There is nothing to be gained by her delaying past her FRA, and she cannot readjust later when you actually begin receiving your own benefit.

    Hope this helps –


  • Jim,

    Thanks for your response. Am I correct in assuming that the optimal strategy to maximize payments for both me and my wife then is for me to file and suspend when I reach 68 (when she hits FRA and is eligible for her full 50 percent share of my payments) and then for me to reclaim at 70 so as to get the maximum I am eligible for?

    Am I also correct in assuming that when I reach 70 (and begin collecting my payments) my wife’s payments will be readjusted up to 50 percent of mine (rather than being stuck at whatever she was getting at 68, plus COLA?).


  • Tom –

    You’re right, file & suspend will not be available to you until you reach FRA. And whenever your wife files for Spousal Benefits, if it’s prior to her FRA, this will permanently reduce the amount that she receives in Spousal Benefits, relative to your PIA. The amount will increase due to COLAs each year, but it will never reach 50% of your PIA, even though you’re waiting to age 70 to claim.

    She would not file again at your age 70, the reduction for starting early (before FRA) is permanent.

    Hope this helps clear things up –


  • Hi Jim
    I am 64 and my wife is 62. She has fewer than 40 quarters worked so that she’d only be able to collect based on my benefits. Am I correct in assuming that I cannot “file and suspend” until I reach FRA to enable her to receive payments? I understand that she will receive a smaller percentage than she might inasmuch she will only be 64 and under full retirement age. If so, when I file at 70 for the highest possible benefits, does she have to file again with SS or will her benefits be adjusted automatically?
    More important, will her benefits at that point be less than half of mine because she had originally (at age 64) filed at less than her FRA?
    Thanks for your information.

  • Jim
    My age is 60 now and my wife is 56. I do not plan on taking my FULL SS until I am 70.
    I want to file and suspend at 66, my wife will be 62 then, will she get 35% of my full SS benefit if I file and suspend at 66?

    At 70 will I get my full SS amount and if she files at 66 will she get her full SS amount?


  • Jim –

    Thanks for your reply. Yes, it has been more than 12 mos. So, the problem is that I didn’t wait until I was FRA, right? If I had started receiving benefits then, I would be able to suspend and start up again later.

  • Dianne –

    I’m assuming that it has been more than 12 months since you began receiving your benefits… if not, then you could still pay everything back and withdraw from receiving benefits.

    Otherwise, you’re pretty much stuck with your present benefit level – as of late last year the payback option was limited to 12 months after starting benefits.


  • Jim – I began receiving benefits at age 65. I want to suspend receipt at this time because my husband’s income has increased (he is not 65) and we are now paying at a higher tax rate, in part because of my social security income. It is my understanding from talking to someone at the SSA that because I began benefits before FRA, I can not suspend them and reinstate them later. Under the old policy the only way I could have done it was to pay back and reapply later. That policy has been discontinued so there is no way I can suspend. The person I spoke with seemed tentative, so before calling back and trying to get someone more knowledgeable, I thought I would see what your take is.

    Thanks very much.

  • Bob – If you return to work this could reduce your son’s benefit, especially if you earn more than the minimum ($14,160 in 2011). Self-employment income above that amount would also reduce your son’s benefit.

    It should be noted that earnings above that amount would also reduce your retirement benefit that you currently receive, but you would get some increase to your future benefit later after you reach FRA.

    Hope this helps –


  • I retired last August (2010) so my seventeen year old son HS senior could get benefits until he turns 18 this year. I will be 65 in April so obviously I took the reduced amount so he would be able to draw something. I didn’t know about that plan until last year.
    If I return to work what does it do to his benefit? I’m confused on how to go about the return to work without messing everything up. Also if I start a business how would that effect the previous issue?

  • Steve –

    What would be the benefit of your wife’s filing and suspending? This is only useful in order to set a base for the other spouse (or children) to begin receiving benefits based upon her record. Since you’re already receiving benefits, I don’t understand why she would want to file and suspend.

    At any rate, she does not have to file for her own benefit at her FRA, she can file only for her Spousal benefit – and so receive roughly 50% of your benefit until such time that she decides to file for her own benefit, which would then replace the Spousal benefit. If she delays filing for her own benefit until age 70, she would be getting the full credit for delays.

    Hope this helps –


  • My wife will reach FRA on 4/12 whereas I started receiving SS benefits 6 mos before my FRA and am now 70.5 years. old. My wife has worked most of her life so is eligible for SS benefits on her own that I believe will be greater than the 50% spousal benefits that she is planning to claim as part of a file and suspend strategy.. The rules seem to state that in that case SS will pay her benefits first. But if she would like to file and suspend at FRA, how will this work if SS pays her benefits first vs. half of mine? Can she file and suspend?

    To further test your statement about not being able to file and suspend until reaching FRA, I thought I’d read that if she were to file and suspend one year before FRA, her spousal benefit would be reduced by about 4%; true or false?

  • Vlad –

    File and suspend is not available until you have reached your Full Retirement Age.

    Sorry about the confusion with some of the earlier information.

    You’re right, the only option you have at this point is to file and begin receiving benefits – then your child could begin receiving benefits as well. Otherwise, to avoid the reduction in benefits, you should wait until FRA.

    Hope this helps –


  • Thanks Jim, I was so excited to learn about “File and Suspend” tactic… I will be 63 in March 2011. My wife is 50 and doesn’t have earnings record, and we have a daughter (will be 3 in April). To provide support to my wife and child, I was going to file and suspend right now (in a few days).

    But from some of your answers, it looks like that to be able to file and suspend, my family needs to wait until I’m 66 (FRA). Or, if I want them to start receiving benefits now, I need to simply file now (and be getting reduced amount permanently (I probably can’t re-do the whole thing in the future)).

    Is this really a dilemma I have? I think I read on some Web links that “file and suspend” between 62 and FRA possible but “not preferable”.

    I there any way that I can file and suspend now and not wait until I’m 66?

    Thanks a lot.


  • Thanks Jim, I’ve now seen other postings that corroborate this. This must be frustrating for those whose non-working wives are significantly older.


  • Pete, I may have confused you (as I often do to myself with some of these rules!). File and Suspend is only available at your FRA. If your 66th birthday is FRA for you, that’s the earliest you can do the File and Suspend.

    Now, the file and payback is an option open to you (as you suggest), but the problem is that you’d also have to payback your wife’s Spousal benefit in the alternative that you described above. So it probably makes the most sense for you to File and Suspend at your FRA and let your wife begin collecting her Spousal benefit at that point.

    Hope this clears things up – sorry about the confusion.


  • Thanks Jim, I guess that means I need to file and collect 10 months before my 66th birthday and then 10 months later at my FRA suspend and pay back the 10 months of my benefits. Sound right? -Pete

  • For Mel, Steve, and Bill above:
    In clarification – File and Suspend is only available at FRA, not before that age.

    I apologize for any confusion my earlier responses may have caused.


  • I will be 62 in August. My wife is 35 so I believe she does not factor into the equation. However, I do have a 3 1/2 year old son.

    If I understand this correctly. I can file and suspend at age 62. My son would then be eligible to receive 50% of my age 62 benefit until he attains age 18 (19 if he is still in High School).

    At 65 or 66 (I have not decided at what age I plan to retire) I apply for social security and I receive my full monthly benefit for my age at retirement. My son’s benefit does not increase but continues at the rate determined when I filed and suspended at age 62? Is that right. So I must determine if the total of the benefits my son receives over the years from age 62 to my retirement age is greater than the larger benefit he would receive when I retire at age 65 or 66…it would be a larger benefit but paid for 3-4 years less.

    Also if I were to die before my son reaches age 18…would he continue to receive the benefits until he does or would he get survivor benefits instead? Would my wife be entitled to anything upon my death considering the difference in age?

  • Hello, Pete –

    The answer to your question is not that your wife has to wait until your age 66 birthday, she has to wait until you file for your benefit. You could file and suspend 10 months before your 66th birthday and then she would not have to wait, but it would reduce her benefit a bit by doing so since you filed early.


  • Hi Jim, My wife is about 10 months older than I am. I am plan to file and suspend at age 66 and collect at 70. My wife has no paid work history so will only be eligible for spousal benefits. After she turns 66 does she have to wait 10 months until my 66th birthday to collect?

    Thanks, Pete

  • Hi, Steve –

    I think you have two things mixed together here: you can file and suspend, which means that you’re no longer collecting your benefit; or you can file and payback later, which means you should set aside the money in a separate account to be used for the payback. In both cases you refile later for your increased benefit.

    In either case, the amount of benefit that your wife would receive is going to be fairly low, given that she’d be filing earlier than FRA – at age 63 the percentage of your PIA that she would receive is roughly 38.5%, while at FRA she could receive 50% of your PIA.

    Of the two options (File & Suspend or File and Payback), either will work for what you’re trying to accomplish. I would add this warning though: SSA is working on eliminating the Payback option, so presumably this would no longer be an option if they made this change. Who knows how existing recipients who intend to utilize this option will be grandfathered in such a case, so it might be in your best interest to go with the File & Suspend option.

    Hope this helps –


  • Gary,I will be 62 in March 2011. My wife will be 63 in August 2011.She does not have enough credits for her own. Should I file and suspend keeping the money in a seperate savings account (I would not have use that money if I continue to work) and pay it back when I reach FRA at age 66? Thank You Steve

  • Jim,
    I turned 62 last July. I have a 13 year old step son and a “bun in the oven” expected to be delivered in February of 2011. I plan to work until I’m 70. Can I file for Old Age Benefits and then suspend, so I can collect benefits for my minor children?

    Thanks for you help.

  • Gil –

    Once your wife reaches FRA, her formula for calculating Spousal Benefits based upon your record will have reached its highest available amount. There is no benefit for her to wait any longer after that point. It’s important to note that, if she takes her own benefit at some point before FRA, this will negatively impact her total overall benefit (her own benefit plus the Spousal Benefit).

    Hope this helps!


  • Jim – At what point (i.e FRA) will my wife receive the largest social security benefit?
    At age 66 (FRA) I will used the file and suspend feature. My wife is 2 years and 8 months younger. My wife has only worked 2 years.
    When my wife reaches FRA will she obtain the largest social security benefits – half of my benefit at FRA ? In other words I will be 68 years and 8 months when she reaches full retiremnt. She cannot obtain any of the 8 % annual increases from age 66 to 70 ?

  • It would certainly be simpler, no doubt about it. But on the other hand, since she’s already filed for and begun receiving the benefit, why not continue to receive it until her FRA, and then pay it back at that point?

    My point is – it’s already in motion, and you’re intending to send it back and refile later. Two items come to mind that are in your favor if she continues to receive the benefit: 1) you can put this money to use and earn interest on it; and 2) if, heaven forbid, something should happen to your wife and she died before she reached FRA, this money is lost.

    Regarding the first item, granted the interest won’t amount to very much at today’s savings or money market rates (I wouldn’t advocate putting this money at risk) – but it will amount to something. Why give it away?

    And regarding the second – it would certainly be no consolation in those circumstances, but again, why give this money away? If nothing more, it could be used as a memorial.

    As far as I know there’s no downside to continuing receiving the benefit and paying it back at FRA.

    Just a couple of things to consider…


  • Definitely helps but wouldn’t it be simpler just to return the two checks; neither of which has been cashed/deposited?

    Many Thanks!

  • Hi again, Gary –

    Waiting until at least FRA provides the better benefit for most all folks – but this only works if you don’t need the money at present and your health is good (and you live long after FRA).

    In the case of your wife’s collecting her benefit now, if you truly don’t need it, why not just put it aside in a savings account or money market fund and pay it all back at her FRA – then re-set her filing to begin at that age? There’s not really any major downside to this, since she’s already filed.

    Then at her FRA she can re-file for her benefit AND the Spousal Benefit at the same time, to receive the full amount that she’s due.

    Hope that helps!


  • Thanks, Jim. Although quite helpful, still a tad confusing. What it suggests to me is that we should not have my wife collect anything before her FRA.
    She has collected one check and has another in the mail. I think we should return both to SS. Your thoughts?

  • Gary –

    For each month in advance before Full Retirement Age that a person has filed, there is a reduction, and the reduction is permanent (unless you go through the “do over” process by paying everything back and re-filing later). This reduction will impact your wife’s total benefit when you file and suspend because her Spousal Benefit is based upon the difference between half of your PIA (since you’re filing at FRA, and IF she waits until her FRA to file for Spousal Benefit)and her PIA – not her benefit. And then that difference will be added to her own benefit to produce her total benefit.

    For example, let’s say her PIA is $800 and yours is $2000, and she takes her benefit early, reducing the benefit to $700. When you file and suspend, if she waits until her own FRA then her Spousal Benefit would be $200 (half of your PIA, or $1000, minus her PIA of $800). This is added to her benefit of $700, for a total benefit of $900.

    If, in that example, she were to file for Spousal Benefit before her FRA (as it appears you’re suggesting), the 50% factor (of your PIA) is reduced further, to a minimum of 35% at age 62. According to my notes, at age 64 the factor is 41.7%. So playing the example through at age 64, the Spousal Benefit would be the difference between $834 (41.7% of $2000) and $800, or $34, which is then added to her own reduced benefit of $700 for a total benefit of $734.

    Lastly, in regard to whether starting a few months earlier will impact your wife’s benefit, every month during the 36 months prior to FRA equates to a reduction of 5/9% – so four months would cause an additional reduction of 20/9% or 2.22% reduction.

    I know this is very complicated and convoluted, but I hope this helps – I used round figures in the example, the real world will be a bit different. “Your mileage may vary.”


  • Jim-I am 65 and will be 66 on 12/29/10. My wife is 63 and will be 64 on 01/12/47. If she begins collecting her lower benefit now and I file and suspend at 66, will there be any “penalties” for the roughly 4 months she will collect her own lower benefit?

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