A:

The short answer is yes, if you haven't reached age 62 by December 31, 2015.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 disrupted two strategies previously approved by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that allowed couples to maximize their benefits, including allowing one spouse to collect spousal Social Security benefits before collecting his/her own benefits.

The first strategy is known as a "restricted application" and requires that your spouse has already filed for Social Security benefits and that both of you have reached full retirement age. In this case, you can file only for spousal Social Security benefits, waiting until 70 to file for your own (larger) benefits.

Starting May 1, 2016, the bill also eliminates a strategy known as "file and suspend," in which one worker in a married couple who has reached full retirement age (FRA), but not age 70, can file for Social Security benefits, but then suspend them.

Neither option is permitted until the worker who wants to exercise the benefit has reached full retirement age.

Here's how it has worked: The main beneficiary has to claim benefits before the spouse can claim a spousal benefit. If the main beneficiary was not ready to file for benefits, he or she could file – and immediately suspend – any receipt of those benefits until some later date. The spouse could then claim a restricted application that allowed him or her to collect half of the main beneficiary's benefit amount. Subsequently, the spouse could collect his or her own benefit at a later date. Using this strategy, both spouses could let their benefits grow until they reach the age of 70. The benefit currently grows at approximately 8%. It did not matter which spouse files and suspends – and which spouse files a restricted application – as long as both spouses are between full retirement age and 70 years old.

An example is a married couple, Sharon and John, who have both reached full retirement age. John's benefit at FRA would be $2000. John can file and immediately suspend benefits until a later date when his benefit will grow approximately 8% a year. Meanwhile, Sharon, who has also reached FRA, can file a restricted application for her spousal benefit. She will receive half of her husband's benefit, or, in this example, $1000 a month. Her benefit will also continue to grow. She, too, can file for her own benefit at a later date and receive a higher benefit than she would have at FRA.

[Note: A spouse can start collecting benefits as young as 62, once his/her spouse has either filed for Social Security benefits or (until May 1, 2016) filed-and-suspended. But in that case, the spouse will get a reduced benefit based on either his/her own benefit or on the spousal benefit, whichever is higher. Having done this, the spouse no longer qualifies to file a restricted application at full retirement age.]

Starting on May 1, 2016, file-and-suspend filings will not be permitted. That leaves couples with a limited time to choose this strategy before it's banned.

In addition, anyone who is not age 62 by December 31, 2015, will not be able to file a restricted application upon reaching full retirement age if they are married and meet the requirements described above. They will no longer be able to first receive spousal benefits, then their own. Older workers who qualify can still employ this strategy.

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