Here's What You Need to Remember: Usually, once the decision to claim Social Security is made, there is no going back—one’s payments remain basically the same for life. However, if less than a year has passed, a person can un-claim the benefits by reimbursing the Social Security Administration for the checks that they already cashed. Doing so will remove them from the SSA’s system, and they can reclaim them later at a higher level.
The Social Security Administration (SSA), established in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is responsible for paying retirement benefits to America’s senior citizens and retirees. By most accounts, the program has been vastly successful throughout its existence; it remains one of the most popular federal programs in the United States, and so far, all attempts to privatize or otherwise reform it have failed. While the program is gradually running out of money—the trust fund that pays for it is scheduled to run out in 2035, after which benefit cuts will kick in—it is very likely that Congress, motivated by the voting power of elderly Americans, will take action to protect the payments before this happens.
Social Security is paid out in full when a person reaches their “full retirement age” (FRA), an age at which the average American will have retired. For most Americans retiring now, this age is sixty-six and some number of months; for people born in 1960 or later, the age will increase to sixty-seven. At this point, a person’s full benefits will kick in, theoretically providing them with around forty percent of their pre-retirement income in benefits.
This does not mean, however, that one must wait until FRA age to claim benefits. Starting at the age of sixty-two, anyone can claim his or her benefits—if they are willing to take a substantial cut, usually around thirty percent. On some level, this is understandable: given the choice between having money now and having it later, most people would rather have it now. But most financial planners strongly recommend against taking the benefits early, noting that waiting until FRA age will quickly pay for itself if a person lives a relatively long life. This is not always the right decision—some people want to enjoy retirement, even if it means they have less money—but many Americans file for Social Security at age sixty-two without fully understanding what they are giving up.
Usually, once the decision to claim Social Security is made, there is no going back—one’s payments remain basically the same for life. However, if less than a year has passed, a person can un-claim the benefits by reimbursing the Social Security Administration for the checks that they already cashed. Doing so will remove them from the SSA’s system, and they can reclaim them later at a higher level.
If more than a year has passed, it is also possible to suspend benefits for a certain period of time. If a person contacts the Social Security Administration and asks them to suspend their benefits, they will stop receiving monthly checks until they request them again—or when they turn seventy. The SSA will give the person “delayed retirement credits,” increasing the size of their monthly checks by around eight percent per year.
This would not save a person as much money as if they had simply waited to file—but it would still amount to a substantial increase over a longer period of time.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest. This article is being republished due to reader interest.