Restricted Applications for Social Security Benefits

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How can you get the most out of your Social Security benefits? One way is by using a process called a "restricted application." Social Security rules signed into law in 2015 changed the right to file a restricted application for those born on or after January 2, 1954.

There are many different types of Social Security benefits. A restricted application tells the Social Security office that you are not applying for all benefits you are eligible for at the same time. This is also known as “restricting the scope” of your application.

When using a restricted application, you are asking for only one benefit type. This method is often used by those who hope to get higher-paying benefits than they would receive using other options.

Key Takeaways

  • A restricted application tells the Social Security office that you are not applying for all benefits that you are eligible for at the same time.
  • You might be eligible to use a restricted application to claim a spousal benefit while letting your benefit continue to grow.
  • Spouses are able to restrict their benefits when they are caring for a child under the age of 16. 

A Restricted Application Limits Your Benefit Type

In many cases, a restricted application allows you to later apply for other benefits types. Take a look at why you might use this rule and some of the things you may be eligible for:

  • A benefit based on your own earnings record; this is known as a "retirement insurance benefit" (RIB).
  • A benefit based on a spouse or ex-spouse’s earnings record; this is known as a "spouse’s insurance benefit" (SIB).
  • A benefit based on a deceased spouse or ex-spouse’s earnings record; this is known as a "widow's insurance benefit" (WIB).
  • A benefit if you are disabled; this is known as a "disability insurance benefit." (DIB).

You can use a restricted application to claim a spousal benefit while letting your benefit continue to grow if:

What if your benefit is higher than the spousal benefit? You can simply switch to your benefit amount when you reach age 70.

The Rules Have Changed for Those Born Later

If you were born on or after January 2, 1954, a restricted application may not be used for the purpose of claiming a spousal or ex-spousal benefit, but widows may use a restricted application at any claiming age.

According to the SSA, their Scope of the Application section provides:

“When a claimant is eligible for more than one benefit at the time of filing, he or she may, for any reason, choose to limit or restrict the scope of the application to exclude a class of benefits unless there is an exception. The reason may be to receive higher current benefits or to maximize the amount of benefits over a period-of-time, including the effect of delayed retirement credits (DRC).”

There are a few key points to note about the restricted application rules:

  1. A spouse must be at full retirement age (FRA) and have been born on or before January 1, 1954. They can then file a restricted application for a spousal benefit only. They also must not have already begun their own benefits.
  2. A widow or survivor of a deceased ex-spouse may file a restricted application; this is true even if they have not yet reached FRA. It doesn't matter when they were born.
  3. A claimant who is caring for a child (under age 16 or disabled adult child) who is entitled to the child’s benefits may have the option to restrict the application to spouse’s benefits only. This is the case even if they have not yet reached their FRA.

Restricted Applications and Spousal Benefits

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Let's say a spouse claimant is born on or before January 1, 1954, and is at or past FRA. They have the right to restrict the application to exclude RIB. But these types of claimants should take an RIB application in a reduced benefit situation when the spouse is insured for RIB as the "deemed filing" provision applies.

A “reduced benefit situation” means you are filing before you reach FRA. When you file before you reach FRA, you are deemed to be filing for spousal benefits at the same time you file for your own retirement benefits (if your spouse has already filed for their benefits).

In the cases of an ex-spouse, they have to have reached age 62; however, they are not required to have filed yet. Filing before FRA prevents you from using claiming strategies that might otherwise allow you to later switch between benefits.

For those born on or after January 2, 1954, when you file for benefits you will also be deemed to be filing for all benefits you are eligible for. You will not be able to restrict the scope of your application to only one benefit type unless you are a widow.

Note

If your spouse has not already filed for benefits, you will not be deemed to be applying for a spousal benefit. Later, when they file for their own benefits, the deemed filing rules will kick in. If your spousal benefit turns out to be more than your own benefit each month, the extra amount will be paid to you.

Restricted Applications and Widow Benefits

According to the SSA in section GN 00204.020E.4.a:

“A widow(er) or surviving divorced spouse may wish to exclude a reduced RIB from the scope of the application and defer filing for an unreduced RIB because of the benefit increases payable after FRA because of DRCs.”

To exclude a reduced RIB, the Social Security office needs a statement on the application. For instance, it could say: “I do not wish this application to be considered an application for reduced benefits on my own record.”

This means if your spouse or ex-spouse is deceased, you may be eligible for a widow's benefit on their earnings record. You would have greater leeway to restrict the scope of your application, even if you have not yet reached FRA. It doesn't matter when you were born.

You might do this to claim a widow benefit for several years; at the same time, you could allow your own benefit to continue to accumulate delayed retirement credits. At age 70, you could then switch over and claim your own (now larger) benefit amount.

Restricted Applications When Caring for a Child

Spouses are able to restrict their benefits when they are caring for a child under the age of 16. You can choose to restrict your benefits and receive spousal benefits (at any age) while receiving child-in-care spousal benefits.

Once the child reaches the age of 16, the child-in-care benefit generally stops. If you are under 62 years of age, there is no other social security option for you. But the child can in fact still receive benefits. If you are at least 62, you will have the option to file for your own benefits, spousal benefits, or wait until FRA to receive your benefits.

Other Considerations

If you are married or a widow, a Social Security calculator can often provide you the type of analysis you need. It can help you find the best Social Security approach for your situation.

Because the rules are complex, some people like to get advice from a lawyer about their options for claiming. If you have dependents, multiple ex-spouses who may be eligible for disability benefits, or some other complex situation, working with a professional could be helpful.