Social Security benefits can have some flexibility in how you receive them, but the flexibility goes away after a while.
It’s possible to start benefits at one age and then stop receiving the benefits, starting them up again later. But this is not always the best option, because it might not work the way you want it to. There are strict limitations on how this can be accomplished.
A recent reader email reads as follows:
I took Social Security at 62 after the Great Recession to supplement my loss of income. I have been working since then (over 65 no income limit). I have two projects this year that will put me back in a substantial income level.
Can I suspend my Social Security income benefits and earn more at a later restart…..say 76 or later?
I am married and my wife (70) earns Social Security from my benefit. She worked for 15 years early on before we had children.
Absolutely this can be done as the reader suggests. However, since his wife is receiving benefits based on his record, her benefit will be suspended at the same time while his own benefit is suspended.
This rule came into effect with the Social Security update in 2015. Any time you suspend benefits on a primary record, all auxiliary benefits are suspended as well.
The rule is that you can suspend benefits after full retirement age, and then restart them at any point in the future. During the suspension period, up to age 70, you will earn delay credits for those months when you are not receiving benefits. The downside is that the auxiliary benefits (the benefit for this reader’s wife) do not earn those delay credits; the benefit for his wife will be the same (with COLAs added) as it was before the suspension.
In addition, the reader suggests delaying out to age 76, but there is no reason to delay benefits past age 70 because there is no increase (no further delay credits) past age 70.
The reader doesn’t indicate his current age, but using the clue of “age 62 after the Great Recession” we can assume that he is currently over age 70. The Great Recession occurred in 2008, so at the very latest we might assume he reached age 62 in 2009 or 2010, which would make him 72 or 73 in 2022. At this point in the game, nothing would be gained by suspending benefits, period. After age 70 there are no additional delay credits, so suspending would just be, in effect, giving that money away.
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If he was younger than age 70 there could be a case made to suspend to pick up the delay credits, but this would have to be weighed against the also-suspended spousal benefit that his wife would have to forgo in the meantime. I suspect that suspending would not be as attractive in that case.
If he was younger than age 70 and either unmarried or his wife was receiving Social Security benefits based on her own earnings, again, suspending might make sense in order to accrue delay credits. But this would have to be weighed against the foregone benefits while suspended.
Given the circumstances, this reader really doesn’t have any flexibility with his Social Security benefits at this stage.
Readers, do you have a Social Security question? Email us at HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com and we may use your question in a future column.