Dear Savvy Senior,
I lost my job last month because of the coronavirus crisis. With little savings, I’ve been thinking about starting my Social Security benefits early to help me get by. But my question is, if I find a new job can I stop my Social Security benefits and restart them at a later date so they can continue to grow?
Yes, there are actually two ways you can stop your Social Security retirement benefits (once you’ve started collecting them) and restart them at a later date, which would boost your benefits. But in order to do this certain rules and conditions must be met. Here are your options.
Withdraw your benefits: One way to pause your Social Security benefits is to simply withdraw your Social Security application. But this must be done within 12 months of starting your benefits and you’ll also have to repay what you’ve received so far. If you choose this option, Social Security will treat your application for early benefits as if it never happened.
To withdraw your benefits, you’ll need to complete Form SSA-521 (SSA.gov/forms/ssa-521.pdf) and send it to your local Social Security office. Also be aware that you can only withdraw benefits once in a lifetime.
Suspend your benefits: If you aren’t eligible for withdrawal, but you’ve reached your full retirement age and have not yet reached age 70, another option is to voluntarily suspend your retirement benefits. With the suspension option you don’t have to repay the benefits you’ve received, and you can restart them anytime you wish, or they will be automatically be reinstated at age 70. (See SSA.gov/planners/retire/ageincrease.html to find your full retirement age.)
By suspending your benefits you’ll earn delayed retirement credits, which means your benefit amount increases for every month of the suspension. Your payment will go up by two-thirds of 1 percent monthly or 8 percent annually. A benefit of $1,500 monthly, for example, increases by $10 for each month you have benefits suspended.
You can request a suspension by phone (800-772-1213) or in person at your local Social Security office.
Working and Collecting Benefits
If you start collecting Social Security and you do go back to work, but your income is modest, you may want to continue drawing your benefits while working at the same time. But if your earnings are higher, it makes sense to stop your benefits.
Social Security has a “retirement earnings test” that says if you’re under your full retirement age and you earn more than $18,240 in 2020, Social Security will deduct $1 from your benefits for every $2 you earn over that amount. Those who reach full retirement age in 2020 a less stringent rule applies. In this case, $1 gets taken out for every $3 you make above $48,600 until you reach the month of your birthday.
It’s also important to know that if you were to lose some or all of your Social Security benefits because of the earning limits, they aren’t lost forever. When you reach full retirement age, your benefits will be recalculated to a higher amount to make up for what was withheld.
Also, if you do decide to work and collect Social Security benefits at the same time, you need to factor in Uncle Sam too. Because working increases your income, it might make your Social Security benefits taxable.
Here’s how this works. If your combined income is between $25,000 and $34,000 as an individual or between $32,000 and $44,000 as joint filers, you will pay tax on up to 50 percent of your Social Security benefits. If you earn above the upper limit of these ranges, you will pay tax on up to 85 percent of your benefits. To help you calculate this see the IRS publication 915 at IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p915.pdf.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or go to SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.