What Are the Consequences of Filing & Suspending Social Security Benefits?

If you are approaching retirement age, it's time to plan for Social Security. You're eligible for retirement benefits if you've paid into the system with payroll taxes, and if you have accumulated at least 40 "work credits" by paying Social Security taxes on your wages. For married couples, the Social Security rules provide a useful way to file for benefits and then request a suspension, which can eventually increase your combined monthly benefits.

Suspending Benefits -- How and Why

You might suspend benefits if you don't need Social Security income to pay living expenses, and you want to be eligible for a higher monthly benefit by waiting. For every month that you wait after full retirement age, your benefit rises. Full retirement age varies from 65 to 67, depending on your year of birth. You collect the maximum benefit possible by waiting until age 70 to begin receiving Social Security.

Application and Spousal Benefits

You have to apply for Social Security retirement by visiting a Social Security office, calling the agency at 800-772-1213, or filling out an online application on Social Security's website. Any time after you reach full retirement age, you can ask the agency to suspend your benefits by contacting it in the same way. If you are married, you can suspend your benefits and then have your spouse apply for spousal benefits on your record. You can restore the benefit at any time. Only one member of a couple may draw spouse's benefits. You can't suspend a benefit that you've already received.

Delayed Retirement

The spousal benefit provides income to you as a couple, while your spouse also is taking advantage of the delayed credit. Drawing spousal benefits does not affect eligibility for benefits or the monthly retirement that your spouse will eventually receive; that amount depends on her own earnings record.

Rules and Reminders

According to the Social Security rules, you may request a suspension of benefits within 12 months of your application, even if you've already begun receiving your payments. However, you have to repay the benefits you've received. If you enrolled in Part B Medicare, you will have to pay the premiums directly as long as the payments are not coming out of a Social Security check. As of 2013, the monthly Part B premium for most beneficiaries reached $104.90. If your spouse is drawing spouse benefits, her Medicare premiums can continue to come out of her benefit check. Suspending retirement benefits also ends your eligibility for any payments under Supplemental Security Income, a benefits program for older or disabled people who have little income.

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