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Can I stop Social Security benefits and restart them later to get a bigger payment?

Yes, within limits. If you are in your first year of collecting retirement benefits,you can apply to Social Security for a “withdrawal of benefits.”

Why would you want to do that? Say you filed for Social Security as early as possible, at age 62, accepting a reduced benefit because you needed the money. Then suppose you got an unexpected windfall: an inheritance, or a new, higher-paying job. You’re now in a position to wait until you are older and can collect a larger benefit.

Timing is key. Social Security will let you withdraw your original application for retirement benefits only once, and it must be within 12 months of the date you first started claiming benefits.

You start the process by filling out Social Security form SSA-521. Send or hand-deliver the completed form to your local Social Security office

If you opt for a withdrawal, Social Security will treat it as if you never applied for benefits in the first place, and you will have to repay every dollar you’ve received. That includes:

  • Your monthly retirement payments.
  • Any family benefits collected by your spouse or children, who must consent in writing to the withdrawal.
  • Any money withheld from your payments by Social Security — for example, to pay your Medicare premium.

If you’ve been getting retirement benefits for more than a year, the window for withdrawal has closed. However, once you reach full retirement age, there’s a second option: You can request a suspension of benefits. During a suspension, you accrue delayed retirement credits, which will increase your monthly retirement benefit when you start collecting again. You can ask Social Security to reinstate your benefits at any time until you turn 70, at which point the agency will do it for you.

Keep in mind

  • If you change your mind about a withdrawal of benefits, you have 60 days from the date Social Security approves your withdrawal to cancel the request.
  • The SSA-521 includes a question asking if you “want to keep Medicare benefits.” You can if you want to. If you don’t, there are numerous implications both for any health care benefits you’ve already received and for reenrollment in Medicare at a later date. You can review these in the Social Security publication “If You Change Your Mind.”

Published October 10, 2018

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