You’re typically better off waiting until your full retirement age of 66 or 67 to collect Social Security retirement benefits, but many start earlier. Even if you do, that’s not the last word on how much you can collect.
In this week’s column, Phil Moeller, the author of Get What’s Yours for Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs and co-author of the updated edition of How to Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security, explains how pausing your Social Security and going back to work pay off—and why you might even consider stopping your benefits and starting over again.
Got a question of your own about Medicare or Social Security? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can I suspend my Social Security benefits?
James: I began taking Social Security at 62. I am now 65. If I were to go back to work, could I suspend Social Security and add to my monthly payout? I thought that option was stopped.
And if so, would I need to wait until age 70 to turn it back on?
Phil Moeller: Once you reach your full retirement age, you can suspend your benefits and earn delayed retirement credits. What the new law said is that if you suspend your own benefit, no one can claim a benefit on your earnings.
You do not have to wait until 70 to refile, and you can do so any time before that should you need the money. If you do suspend your benefit at age 66 and resume it four years later, it will be 32% larger each month for the rest of your life.
Will going back to work boost my benefits?
Charlene, California: If someone goes back to work after beginning to receive Social Security benefits, can their benefits increase?
Phil Moeller: Social Security bases benefits on a person’s 35 highest earnings years. If you go back to work and earn enough to make that year one of your top 35, your benefits would go up.
Keep in mind, however, that changing only one year among 35 will not have a big impact.
How can my wife get the biggest spousal benefit?
Ramon, Philippines: I retired last February at the age of 63 and two months and currently receive $659 a month in Social Security benefits. My wife will turn 62 in February of 2020 but never worked during her eight years in the U.S. How much will she get in spousal benefits if she files at 62?
I know that $659 doesn’t sound much, but I understand that my wife is entitled to approximately 32.5% of my $659. If so, we can live comfortably in the Philippines.
Phil Moeller: Your wife is entitled to a spousal benefit, but I’m not sure you’re aware how much more money both of you could receive if you had waited to file until you were older.
Your wife’s spousal benefit will reach its maximum if she waits to file until she reaches her full retirement age. Also, her benefit will be larger than you think, because it will be based on your FRA benefit, not the smaller benefit you actually receive.
While you have already filed for your benefit, you may still have a way to increase it. Social Security rules allow you to repay your benefits within a year of filing. If you can do this, Social Security would erase your application, and you could wait up until age 70 to file. If you did so, your benefit would be much higher than it is now.
Based on your email, it appears that you were born at the end of 1954. If that’s the case your benefit at age 70 would be more than $1,000 a month, and you would receive this for the rest of your life.
If you waited until age 70 to file, it would be the end of 2024 and your wife would be near her full retirement age at that time. If she filed at her FRA, she would receive about $375 a month in spousal benefits for the rest of her life (that’s a very rough approximation). Your joint benefit would be nearly $1,400 a month—much, much larger than you’d get under your current plan.
By maximizing your own retirement benefit, you also would guarantee that your wife would receive the highest possible survivor benefit should you die before her, which is very likely, given the difference in your ages.
I realize you did not ask me for this information, and that your financial situation might not allow you to repay the benefits you’ve already received, or to wait so long to file. But I worry that people do not know the benefits of waiting to file, so I wanted to bring these to your attention.
These questions previously appeared on the PBS NewsHour Making Sen$e website.