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.