Dear Liz: You recently encouraged a reader to listen to his financial advisor, who wanted him to file for his Social Security benefit at his full retirement age of 66 but then suspend the application until his benefit maxes out at age 70.
Another good feature of this “file and suspend” maneuver is the ability to ask for all the unpaid benefits in a single lump sum in the event one develops a terminal illness or needs funds for some other exigent circumstance, such as long-term care. The potential lump sum “back pay” can be a pretty good insurance policy while waiting for age 70.
Answer: Thanks for highlighting this important feature. Many people who are on the fence about delaying Social Security don’t understand that their decision is reversible — as long as they wait until their full retirement age to file.
At that point, they have the option to file and suspend. If they later change their minds, they can request a lump sum for all the benefits back to the date they filed.
They lose any “delayed retirement credits” from waiting — in other words, their benefit is reset to what it would have been had it started at full retirement age — but they get a big chunk of cash when they may need it most.
People who file before their full retirement age, which is currently 66 and rising to 67 for people born in 1960 and later, don’t have the option to file and suspend.