December 3, 2015 in Retirement

Can I increase my benefits by suspending Social Security?

Dear Liz:

I started Social Security benefits early because I needed the income. Can I stop my benefit now, get a job for a couple of years and then get a higher amount on either my own record or my ex-husband’s? Doesn’t the amount you get increase up until age 72?

— Joan

Dear Joan,

Social Security retirement benefits max out at age 70, not age 72, so there’s no reason to delay benefits beyond that point.

You do have the option, once you have reached full retirement age, of suspending your Social Security benefit through age 70 to let it grow, even though you started early, says economist Laurence Kotlikoff, co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Full retirement age is currently 66, although it will rise to 67 for those born in 1960 and later.

If you’re receiving spousal or divorced spousal benefits, though, you need to be extremely careful because it’s possible your check at 70 would be no higher and you would have given up years of checks for no reason, Kotlikoff says.

Unlike your own benefit, spousal benefits can’t earn delayed retirement credits. If your own benefit grows, your spousal benefit can be reduced dollar for dollar to offset that increase.

The math is pretty complicated, so consider getting outside expertise or using software such as that found on Kotlikoff’s MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com website to make sure you don’t make a dangerous move.

Potential snafu when suspending Social Security

If you are enrolled in Medicare Part B, you will be directly billed for future Part B premiums by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services because the premiums can’t be deducted from suspended payments. If you don’t pay the premiums in a timely manner, you could lose your Part B coverage.

Source: Social Security Administration

If you decide suspension makes sense, you may get some pushback from your local Social Security office. Unfortunately, some Social Security representatives don’t understand the suspension rules and may tell you that suspension is not an option once you start benefits. That’s not true, Kotlikoff says. The rules are outlined in the Social Security Administration’s “Program Operations Manual System” under the heading, “GN 02409.130 Voluntary Suspension Reinstatement.” It’s also described in plain English on the Social Security website under the headline “Retirement Planner: Suspending Retirement Benefits.”

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