Q&A: Filing and Suspending Social Security

Dear Liz: I was told by a staff person at our Social Security office that because I am seven years older than my husband (he is 58, I am 65), the “file and suspend” wouldn’t work for me and that because I am waiting until 70 to claim benefits, it was a non-issue.

Is that correct? How does the “lump sum” option figure into the equation? How quickly would I have to file and suspend not to be penalized for the process?

Answer: The “file and suspend” option allows you to file for your Social Security benefit and then immediately suspend that application.

The suspension means your benefit continues to earn delayed retirement credits that boost the amount of your checks 8% each year until age 70, when your benefit reaches its maximum. The file and suspend option is available only once you’ve reached your full retirement age (which is currently 66 but which is rising to 67 for those born in 1960 or later).

There are two main reasons to file and suspend. The first is to allow your spouse to claim spousal benefits based on your work record. The second is to give you the option to change your mind.

If you file and suspend, then discover you need the money, you can either start benefits at the larger amount you’ve earned with delayed retirement credits, or give up those credits and instead receive a lump sum payment of benefits back to the date you suspended your application.

There’s no reason for you to file and suspend for spousal benefits since your husband would have to be 62 before he could file for those checks. By that time, as the Social Security representative points out, you’ll be close to age 70, when you plan to start your benefit anyway.

You could still file and suspend as an insurance strategy — in case you need the money later. If that’s your plan, then doing so at your full retirement age of 66 would give you the option of requesting the largest possible lump sum if you do change your mind.

Decisions about when to start Social Security benefits and how to coordinate benefits when you’re married (or divorced, or widowed) can be extremely complex.

Please read the information the AARP provides on its site about maximizing Social Security benefits and consider using one of the available calculators to explore your options. AARP and T. Rowe Price have free calculators, and you can find more sophisticated options for $40 at sites including MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com and SocialSecurityChoices.com.

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  1. Susan Berry says

    So for people born 1960 or later what is the percentage their social security check increases each year before turning 70? That’s only 3 years. Does it go up 9.333% or 8%? Does the fact that they are having to start a year later give them a higher amount than if the full retirement age stayed 66? I haven’t seen this question before and was curious.

    • Liz Weston says

      The increase between full retirement age and age 70 remains 8 percent each year. It’s the same for everyone born in 1943 and later. So no, we don’t get more because we were born later. The boomers, once again, got the best deal.

  2. Dear Liz, my divorced husband died @ age 57 in 2002 – we were married 18 yrs – divorced 1999. I am/was 8 yrs younger. In 2007 I was diagnosed with leukemia.
    The expense of the daily meds. Forced me to file for disability from survivor benefits on his record ( larger benefit amount than mind). I needed the part D and the Medicare that comes after 2 yrs on SSDI. I have worked part time in the mortgage industry since diagnosis. But not making large enough money to lose the SSDI. I am now 62 – my deceased ex would have been 70 now. I have read that – when I reach full retirement age of 66. That the discounted benefit I receive now because starting it at age 54 – should go to my ex’es full retirement benefit. Is that correct?

    • Liz Weston says

      Deborah, I’m not sure how disability benefits interact with survivor benefits. I’ll take your question to my
      Social Security experts and if possible answer it in a future column.

  3. Veloris Mcka says

    I have $1300 in Series I (2010,2009, 2008 ,2007, 2001) bonds. Is it best to save, relinquish or what???

    • Liz Weston says

      Hi, Veloris. Savings bonds don’t have a great return, but whether you should keep or relinquish them depends on your goals for the money.