The decision to claim Social Security is a significant one, and it's something that many seniors struggle with. After all, the age at which you file will help determine what your monthly benefit looks like throughout retirement (keeping in mind that your personal wage history will also factor into your benefits calculation). That's why it's so important to consider your choices carefully before signing up.
But here's some good news. Even if you're already collecting Social Security, you might still have an opportunity to snag yourself a higher monthly benefit. Here's how.
You get a do-over
One lesser-known Social Security rule is that all filers are eligible for a single do-over in their lifetime. This means that if you filed for benefits early, you may have a chance to undo that filing and sign up again later, all the while locking in a higher monthly benefit in the process.
Let's say you decided to sign up for Social Security at age 62, which is the earliest age you can file. If your full retirement age is 66 and 10 months (which would be the case if you were born in 1959), that means you've slashed your monthly benefits by almost 30% by filing so early.
That's a decision you may be OK with initially but regret several months later when you see just how small your Social Security checks are. (Or it's a decision you may feel compelled to make based on a temporary job loss or another near-term situation that's resulted in a need for money.)
The good news is that if you're still within a year of your filing date, you have the option to capitalize on that do-over. Specifically, you'll need to do two things:
- Withdraw your application for benefits.
- Repay the Social Security Administration all of the money it paid you in benefits.
That second requirement is where you may get tripped up. But if you didn't already spend that money and have the option to repay it, then doing so will allow you to file for benefits later on with a clean slate.
At that point, you'll have the option to wait until full retirement age and snag a much higher monthly payout. You can even delay your filing past full retirement age and boost your benefits by 8% a year in the process, up until the age of 70.
Don't get stuck with a lower benefit
Once you make the decision to sign up for Social Security, the monthly benefit you lock in will be the same benefit you continue to collect for life, aside from the modest boosts you might get via annual cost-of-living adjustments. If you wind up regretting your decision to file for benefits early, you're not necessarily stuck.
Undo your filing, and you'll have a chance to score a higher Social Security paycheck. And considering that you may have a very long retirement ahead of you, that would certainly be a good thing to do.