As of 4/9/16, the SSA has published some guidance as to how its representatives should implement the new claiming rules. But it has more work to do.
The clearest statement by the SSA was posted around 2/25/16 here. The key element in this new statement is discussed below.
The SSA also recently published some FAQs about “deemed filing” (which applies to the restricted-application option) that are helpful. And it has finally published some FAQS about file and suspend (or voluntary suspension).
As the SSA publishes statements, we will post links to them here.
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 has surrounded 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. (A recent post by the SSA may have resolved this uncertainty; see below.)
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.”
On 2/24/16 the SSA published the following on its website:
“If you voluntarily suspended benefits prior to April 30, 2016, you may remain in voluntary suspense status, and the new law will not affect you. Also, if you submit your request before April 30th 2016 and your spouse or children become entitled to benefits either before or after that date they will not be affected by the new rules and will continue to receive payment.”
The last sentence in the quote seems to resolve the uncertainty mentioned above. In particular, the husband, who is 67, can file and suspend by April 29 and the wife can file a restricted application when she turns 66 in July 2016.
For the SSA’s summary of the relevant section of the law, see Section 831 here.