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Is FAASF the Right Social Security Strategy for You?

Source: Flickr user Moyan Brenn.

This article was updated on February 1, 2016.

For millions of Americans, Social Security is an essential source of income throughout their retirement years. To make Social Security stretch as far as it can, you need to know about innovative strategies that can help you make the most of the benefits you're entitled to. One of those strategies involves filing as a spouse first, also known as FAASF. While that acronym doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, the FAASF strategy can provide extra money that many retired couples don't realize they can receive. However, a recent legal change made the FAASF strategy available to only a select group of those at or approaching retirement age.

2 ways to get paid
Married Social Security recipients have two ways they can receive benefits. They can get payments based on their own work histories, filing for benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. The amount you receive depends on your career earnings as well as how early or late you start taking payments. Those who were born between 1943 and 1954 have a full retirement age of 66, and those who are in that group and take Social Security early can see their benefits cut by as much as 25% compared to their full-retirement benefit, while those who wait can boost their base benefit by as much as 32%.

But married Social Security recipients also have the option of receiving benefits based on their spouse's work history. The FAASF strategy takes advantage of that option by allowing the higher-earning spouse to receive at least a modest spousal benefit while allowing his or her own to grow as large as possible.

How FAASF works
Here's how the strategy commonly works. The lower-earning spouse files to receive Social Security benefits based on his or her own earnings history. That brings in some Social Security income to help the couple meet their financial needs, but it also allows the higher-earning spouse's eventual monthly benefit to continue to grow.

Source: Social Security Administration.

Where FAASF comes in is when the higher-earning spouse reaches full retirement age. At that point, the higher-earning spouse can file as a spouse first, restricting his or her application to spousal benefits only. That preserves the growth of the higher earner's own Social Security benefit, and typically, the higher earner waits until reaching age 70 before claiming a benefit based on his or her own work history.

There are two main advantages of the FAASF strategy. First, the couple boosts its overall Social Security income during the period before the higher earner reaches age 70. Second and potentially more importantly, maximizing the higher-earning spouse's benefit not only boosts lifetime income under many life-expectancy assumptions, but also sets the stage for higher survivor's benefits if the higher-earning spouse dies first.

Of course, things don't always work out in such a way that the FAASF strategy achieves the best result. In particular, strategies that involve delaying full benefits never do as well when people fail to live to their full life expectancy. Those who have health conditions or medical histories that could have an adverse impact on lifespans should therefore take an especially close look before adopting such strategies.

Warning: Congress took away FAASF for most workers going forward
Unfortunately, a recent law change eliminated the FAASF strategy for most people in the future. The new law no longer allows someone to apply only for spousal benefits at full retirement age, instead deeming them to have applied for their own retirement benefits as well. That takes away much of the benefit of the strategy.

However, a grandfathering provision in the new law left the FAASF strategy available for some. If you turned 62 by the end of 2015, then you can still file a restricted application for spousal benefits once you reach full retirement age. Those who turn 62 in 2016 or later will not be able to use the FAASF strategy effectively.

In general, if you're eligible, the FAASF strategy can be a good way to get more from the Social Security you've earned. By making the most of both spouses' benefits, you can add substantially to your retirement income.

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (31)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 12, 2013, at 8:57 PM, prginww wrote:


    I guess I am a fool, seems everything you post

    has some sort of gimmick attached. You know

    the blog on SS and other gimmicks. If you really

    want us to know something get to the point. I

    don't appreciate the run around but I do appreciate

    getting to the point.

    I really don't want to be mean but when I got to

    sit and read for 15 minutes and learn nothing I

    do get edgy.

  • Report this Comment On December 20, 2013, at 5:22 PM, prginww wrote:

    We all want to keep our hard earned money,right?So here is your chance to do just that.When it come`s to what you spend on cable,dish and direct television we all want a cheaper way to watch what we want-all channels we are not interested in.Make time to hear this out you will be happy you did(:-D

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 4:01 PM, prginww wrote:

    There is NO WAY to "cheat the social security system, unless of course you tell lies to them

    and risk getting caught.

    Your earnings chart does not lie. You worked,

    deductions were taken, you get units or points

    for your deductions. Not everyone can wait until age 70 to file for SSA, so your story is nice , but not practical.

    If you do reach age 70 and are still a spouse,

    The angels must have protected you!

    And I agree with the previous post, why take so much space on the computer screen, GET TO THE POINT, My favorite TV show comes on at 10 a.m. and you are taking way too much time!

  • Report this Comment On May 08, 2014, at 5:34 PM, prginww wrote:


  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2014, at 4:40 PM, prginww wrote:

    I'm soon to be 73 I'm on ss so is my wife I got on ss soon after i retired in 2000 how do we get all thats due for us ,costs creep up and up ,but not our ss.

    ss and small penscion is all we have.

  • Report this Comment On June 07, 2014, at 11:23 AM, prginww wrote:

    I highly recommend that once one spouse is on SS based on earnings, that the other spouse claim the spousal benefit as soon as retirement age is reached, unless, of course, the full SS benefit is sorely-needed income. You have to be or have been married for at least 10 years to qualify. If you're finding out about this a little late, you can still apply for the spousal benefit, and the government catch-up the payments for the time you missed.

  • Report this Comment On June 07, 2014, at 11:27 AM, prginww wrote:

    If you're divorced, but were married at least 10 years, and you haven't applied for full SS, you can still apply for the spousal benefit from your ex.

  • Report this Comment On July 27, 2014, at 8:40 PM, prginww wrote:

    I'm 63 years young and my spouse of 36 years passed away 2 years ago, I've not remarried & retired 13 months ago. I'm collecting SS survivor benefits of a measly $1400. What does FAASF do for one in this position? Do I sit tight 'till 65 or . . .?

  • Report this Comment On May 05, 2015, at 12:45 PM, prginww wrote:

    Dan, I have to agree with most of the comments I have read above. If you are truly in this arena to help those who truly need the help, why not "give" this information to the members (just signed up) without any fees. If this is just a business to make money then you should continue down the same path but be honest about it.

    The fact that people read the article and sit through a commentary that is way to long says that they are truly looking for help. They have reached out to you for the help you dangle in front of them and then.....

    I am one of the many, 64 years old, not retired but also not employed, looking for help; not a gimmick.

  • Report this Comment On September 16, 2015, at 7:31 PM, prginww wrote:

    Any come-on that subjects the viewer to a video of longer than 5 minutes is a scam.

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