Ask Larry: Is It Really True That I Can’t Suspend My Social Security Retirement Benefit?

Today’s column addresses questions about whether Social Security employees are really correct when they deny the ability to suspend a retirement benefits, turning 62 when receiving disability benefits and the ability to collect survivor’s benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Is It Really True That I Can’t Suspend My Social Security Retirement Benefit?

Hi Larry, I called the Social Security office and they want to argue that I can not suspend my Social Security retirement benefits. I started taking benefits at 62 and I have already reached my FRA at 66 and two months. So how do I get passed the bureaucracy? Thanks, Thomas


Hi Thomas, A lot of people have reported getting the same misinformation as you apparently did, so it sounds like Social Security may have a training or hiring problem. In any case, you are allowed to voluntarily suspend your Social Security retirement benefits between your full retirement age (FRA) and 70, regardless of when you started drawing your benefits or when you were born.

First, you’ll need to make sure that your request for benefit suspension is acknowledged by Social Security, since the earliest that you can suspend your benefits is the month after the month in which your request is submitted to Social Security. I would suggest submitting a written and signed request, even though the regulations allow your request to be submitted either verbally or in writing.

And don’t take no for an answer. If you can’t reach a trained Social Security employee to acknowledge and process your request, insist on speaking with a supervisor or office manager. If all else fails, I would suggest contacting one of your representatives in the US Congress to tell them about your experience. Inquiries from the office of a senator or congressperson often results in special handling. Best, Larry

If You’re Receiving SSID, Is It Mandatory That You Switch To Retirement When You Turn 62?

Hi Larry, When receiving SSDI and you reach 62, is it mandatory that you switch to retirement benefits? Thanks, Charles

Hi Charles, If they’re receiving Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits, then the answer to your question is no. No action is required when you turn 62 if you’re drawing SSDI benefits. SSDI benefits automatically convert to regular Social Security retirement benefits at the same rate when you the recipient reaches their full retirement age (FRA).

However, people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) must file for any Social Security benefits for which they’re eligible as soon as they meet the requirements. So if a person is drawing SSI and they become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits when they turn 62, they must claim those benefits or else their SSI benefit payments will stop. Best, Larry

Can I Collect My Deceased Husband’s Social Security?

Hi Larry, Could I collect either his benefit or a widow’s benefit from my late husband’s Social Security record? I’m only 58 I’m getting a small pension of his now. We don’t have any children together. Thanks, Helen

Hi Helen, You can’t collect another person’s actual Social Security benefits on contributions, but you may be able to qualify for widow’s benefits at some point. Unless you’re disabled, the earliest that you could potentially qualify for Social Security widow’s benefits is at 60. But if you start drawing widow’s benefits prior to your full retirement age (FRA), your benefit will be reduced for age.

If you do qualify for widow’s benefits and if you will also be eligible for Social Security benefits based on your own earnings history, your best filing strategy could be either filing for reduced widow’s benefits early and then switching to your own record at 70, or filing for reduced retirement benefits on your own record early and then filing for unreduced widow’s benefits at full retirement age (FRA). Normally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher record when it reaches its highest potential rate.

My company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — could help sort all of this out for you so that you can determine the best strategy for maximizing your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

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