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Social Security Mailbox

Mastering the Mysteries of File and Suspend

When and how you claim your Social Security benefit impact the amount you receive

Q: If we're both at full retirement age, can both of us file and suspend?

A: No. Only one is allowed. In other words, Social Security won't let both members of a couple simultaneously collect a spousal benefit off the other spouse's suspended application.

Q: If we file and suspend, can we drop out later if we change our minds?

A: Yes. Social Security provides escape hatches for that. For instance, at 68, John could cancel his request to suspend his benefits and get a lump sum payment of the money he did not get from 66 to 68. Going forward, he would collect the $2,000 monthly payment that he'd been due at 66. Or, he could forgo the lump sum and begin benefits at the higher level that was brought on by two years of delayed retirement credits.

See also: Social Security changes in 2014

Q: Are there other effects of this strategy that I should know about?

A: Yes. Premiums for Medicare Part B are routinely deducted from Social Security checks. But once you've suspended those checks, you will be billed for your premiums, by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). If you don't pay those bills, you may lose your Part B coverage, a potentially disastrous outcome.

If you're receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, suspending your Social Security retirement payments will make you ineligible for SSI.

Q: Where can I get more information?

A: Call Social Security at 800-772-1213. Or visit the Social Security website. Learn special instructions on what to do if you've applied for retirement benefits and then changed your mind about when to start them, and the full rules of spousal benefits

Q: If we decide file and suspend is for us, how do we sign up?

A:There's no single way. Social Security's only advice is: "You do not have to sign your request to suspend benefit payments. You may ask us orally or in writing." That may be the simplest rule of all.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question? Check out the Social Security Mailbox archive. If you don't find your answer there, send an email to the Social Security Mailbox.

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