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Tens of millions of Americans depend on their Social Security benefits to provide them with income during their golden years, making it one of the government's most important and widely used social programs. One of the key questions that all Social Security recipients will eventually have to figure out is when they want their benefits to start, as there are positives and negatives to tapping your benefits early or waiting. Taking your benefits early will give your income a boost at an earlier date, but it will cause your future payments to be lower. That's why many financial planners suggest that their clients delay taking their benefits until as late as possible so that they can maximize their payout.

But what happens if you choose to claim your benefits early and then later change your mind? This situation can occur for a variety of reasons so the Social Security Administration put in a provision that allows for the suspension of benefits after they have already started.

If this situation applies to you, here are a few details that you need to keep in mind:

  • You must have already reached full retirement age, but cannot suspend your benefits if you are over age 70.
  • Social Security benefits are paid in the month after they are due, so don't be surprised to see one more payment hit your bank account in the month following your suspension request.
  • Your benefit payments will automatically resume the month after you turn 70 if you don't choose to reinstate them earlier than that.

If you are interested in suspending your benefits because you were told about the file-and-suspend strategy, you should be aware that recent changes to the law will make this plan no longer a viable option after May 2016. But if you are eligible to do so and wish to proceed, here's what you can expect.

How to Suspend Your Social Security Benefits
Suspending your Social Security benefits is an easy and straightforward process and there are several different ways to begin the process, including:

  • Calling the Social Security helpline at 1-800-772-1213.
  • If you wish to make the request in person or want extra help with the process, you can visit your local Social Security office, too. Here's a link to a search tool that will help you find the branch closest to where you live.

Am I stuck with my decision if I choose to suspend?
If you file, suspend, and then later change your mind, you can opt to have your benefits reinstated. To do so, you just need to contact the Social Security Administration by any of the methods listed above to make a request to restart your benefits. The SSA will start sending you checks again and you also may be entitled to receive any benefits that you forfeited when your payments were suspended.

How will my decision affect my Medicare benefits?
Choosing to suspend your Social Security benefits will not have an impact on your ability to receive Medicare benefits, but you can choose to stop them if you wish.

There is one important point to keep in mind: If your Medicare Part B premiums are being deducted from your Social Security check and you choose to suspend your benefits, you can expect to get a bill directly from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to cover your future Part B premiums. This billing detail will also apply to your spouse or ex-spouse if they are the one suspending their payment so it's important to remember that you need to make your Part B premium payments. If you forget to do so, you could be forfeiting your coverage.

What if I receive railroad veterans' benefits?
The Railroad Retirement Board and the Department of Veterans Affairs make their own decisions about how they run their programs, so if you are currently receiving benefits from either institution and are looking to suspend, you should contact them directly to see how you might be affected. 

What if I get Supplemental Security Income benefits?
If you currently receive SSI payments -- which are provided by the federal government and help assist low- or no-income citizens with disabilities meet their basic needs -- and you choose to suspend your Social Security checks, you will also become ineligible for future SSI payments.