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4 Ways to Get a Do-Over After Starting Social Security Too Soon

By Robin Hartill, CFP® - Jun 20, 2021 at 10:00AM

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Regret your decision? Here are four ways to undo it.

Deciding when to claim Social Security can be nerve-wracking because it's so permanent. If you start benefits as soon as possible at age 62, your monthly checks will be about 76% lower than if you wait to get the maximum benefit at age 70 -- and your options for reversing course are extremely limited.

But there are a few scenarios in which you can get a do-over. Here are four ways you can undo your decision and get a bigger Social Security benefit.

A senior man in a colorful shirt celebrates while sipping a tropical-looking cold drink.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Withdraw your application

Social Security will allow you to cancel your application if you started receiving benefits less than 12 months ago. You'll need written consent from anyone in your family who's receiving benefits based on your application. You're also required to repay Social Security for any benefits you and your family received, including money you had withheld from your checks for taxes and Medicare premiums.

You're only allowed one withdrawal in your lifetime. If you choose to withdraw your application, you can reapply once you're ready to restart your benefits. 

Note that repaying up to a full-year's worth of benefits will be difficult for a lot of people. If you're planning to take Social Security to clear a short-term hurdle and then withdraw your application, think carefully about whether you'll be realistically able to reimburse Social Security.

2. Suspend your benefits

If you've reached full retirement age (FRA), which is the age at which you qualify for your primary insurance amount, you can suspend your benefits. Doing so will allow you to accrue delayed retirement credits of 8% for each year you hold out until your 70th birthday. 

You can reinstate your benefits any time you want. If you don't do so by the time you turn 70, Social Security will automatically restart them. 

3. Go back to work

Working while taking Social Security early can significantly reduce your benefits. If you take benefits before full retirement age and you're still working, Social Security will withhold $1 for every $2 you earn above $18,960 in 2021. The year you reach FRA, Social Security hangs on to $1 for every $3 of earnings above $50,520.

But those benefits that are withheld don't disappear. Once you reach your full retirement age, Social Security will permanently increase your benefit to account for the extra money it withheld. If you've changed your mind about retiring early and want to return to work, you can do so knowing that you will eventually receive the money withheld. 

4. Switch to spousal benefits

In a few scenarios, you may be able to collect a higher benefit by switching to spousal benefits. Typically, you'll only have this option if your spouse hasn't started benefits yet and you're making the switch when your spouse files.

You may also be able to get more Social Security by starting with spousal benefits then holding out for a higher benefit based on your own record -- but only if you were born before Jan. 2, 1954, you're caring for a child younger than 16 who's disabled, or you're eligible for disability. 

The most you can earn from a spousal benefit is 50% of your spouse's primary insurance amount once you've reached full retirement age. You don't earn delayed retirement credits for waiting past your full retirement age, nor will you receive 50% of any delayed retirement credits your spouse earned. Because 50% is the maximum benefit, this is only a good option if your spouse earned significantly more than you.

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