As of 2/2/16, the SSA has not published any guidance as to how its representatives should implement the new claiming rules. [We have, however, recently received useful information from a Social Security regional office; see below.] As soon as the SSA publishes new claiming regulations, we will post them here. The SSA must publish these new regulations soon, as the first key deadline established by the law is April 29, 2016. So, check back here often.
The new law seems clear, and we have based our software revisions on our reading of that law. However, virtually every law contains ambiguities that administrative regulations must clarify. So, we cannot be 100 percent certain that our reading of the law will be fully consistent with what the SSA ultimately decides about the implementation of the new rules.
The biggest uncertainty, by far, surrounds the interaction between the file and suspend option and the restricted application option for married couples. To illustrate, suppose a husband is 67 and his wife is 65, turning 66 in July 2016. Just to simplify the discussion, assume that she has no benefits on her own record. He will file and suspend his benefits before April 29, 2016. If she claims spousal benefits before April 29, we have no doubt that she would receive them even though his benefits had been suspended. But, if she claims spousal benefits, say, when she turns 66 in July, we are not fully confident that she would receive them while his benefits remained in suspension. Our reports that allow for file-and-suspend (free after ordering our basic report) assume that the wife in this example would receive spousal benefits even if she applied after April 29. But, there is some small uncertainty as to whether that assumption is correct.
We emailed this above question to a Social Security contact and received the following helpful email response from the Mid-Atlantic regional office:
“It is important to remember that naming a current spouse on the Number Holder’s Title II [retirement benefits] application who is potentially entitled to spouse’s benefits and appears to meet the factors of entitlement for spouse’s benefits establishes a protective filing for spouse’s benefits and any other Title II benefits he or she may qualify for (See GN 00204.010). Since the husband filed and requested suspension before enactment of the Bi-Partisan Budget Act in 2016 and she is filing in her FRA month, the wife will receive unreduced spouse’s benefits (1/2 husband’s PIA). The husband does not have to request reinstatement of his retirement benefit for his wife to receive benefits on his record.”
That response would seem to resolve the uncertainty surrounding this question related to the interaction between file-and-suspend and the restricted application options. However, the email from the Regional Office also contained the following statement:
“We have not received official guidance from our Headquarters.”
So, we still do not have an official statement from “Headquarters.” But at least we have confirmation from a regional office.
For the SSA’s summary of the relevant section of the law, see Section 831 here. Note that this summary by the SSA does not clear up the ambiguities mentioned in this post.