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Savvy Senior: Can you stop and restart Social Security benefits?

Dear Savvy Senior: Can I stop my Social Security retirement benefits and restart them later to get a bigger payment? I recently got a nice unexpected inheritance, so I don’t need the money from Social Security right now. If possible, I would like to suspend my benefits and restart them at age 70. — Do-over Dan

Dear Dan: Yes, there are two strategies that allow Social Security beneficiaries to undo their claiming decision. But to be eligible, certain conditions must be met. Here’s what you should know.

Withdrawal benefits

If you are in your first year of collecting retirement benefits, you can apply to Social Security for a withdrawal of benefits. Social Security will let you withdraw your original application for retirement benefits, but it must be within 12 months of the date you first claimed your benefits.

If you opt for a withdrawal, Social Security will treat it as if you never applied for benefits. But there’s a catch: You’ll have to repay every dollar you’ve received, including those of any family members who have been collecting benefits on your earnings record, such as a spouse or minor child, along with any money that was withheld from your Social Security payments — for example, to pay your Medicare premiums.

You can withdraw your application for Social Security benefits only once, but you can apply for benefits again later when the monthly amount would be larger.

To withdrawal your benefits, fill out Social Security form SSA-521 (you can find it at SSA.gov) and send it to your local Social Security office.If you change your mind, you have 60 days from the date Social Security approves your withdrawal to cancel the request.

Suspend benefits

If you miss the 12-month window, or if repaying your Social Security benefits is not financially feasible, there is another do-over option, but you’ll need to be full retirement age or older.

Full retirement age is 66 and 6 months for those born in 1957, but it rises in two-month increments every birth year to age 67 for those born in 1960 and later. You can find your full retirement age at SSA.gov.

At that point, you can suspend your Social Security benefit, and the good news is you don’t have to repay anything. But the bad news is your monthly Social Security benefits stop and so do those of any dependent family members (except a divorced spouse).

During the suspension, you will also accrue delayed retirement credits, which will increase your monthly retirement benefit by two-thirds of 1 percent for each suspended month (or 8 percent for each suspended year) up until age 70.

Suspended benefits would automatically resume at 70, or you could choose to resume Social Security benefits earlier, but you would receive delayed retirement credits only for the period when benefits were suspended.

You can request a Social Security suspension over the phone (800-722-1213), in writing or in person at your local Social Security office. The suspension would begin the month after you make the request.

Note that if you’re enrolled in Medicare, there’s another consequence of withdrawing or suspending your benefits.

Normally, Medicare Part B premiums ($174.70 per month in 2024 for most beneficiaries) are deducted directly from monthly Social Security payments.

If you withdrawal or suspend your benefits and you’re enrolled in Medicare Part B, you’ll start receiving a quarterly bill from Medicare. You’ll have the option of paying electronically or by mail. Or you can sign up for Medicare’s Easy Pay, which automatically deducts your premium payments from your savings or checking account.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.

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