Can I voluntarily suspend my Social Security payments?

Dear Rusty: My wife retired in 2015 and is receiving Social Security. I am past my full retirement age, and I still work. I recently filed for Social Security benefits and received my first payment earlier this month, and my benefits are around three times my wife’s. I now find that, due to other income, I am having some regrets about filing for Social Security, as the taxes will be complicated. So, my questions are:

  1. If I do a “voluntary suspension”, can my wife still apply to get up to 50 percent of my benefits, or do I have to be “actively” receiving Social Security benefits? In other words, does the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015” prevent this?
  2. If I do a “Voluntary Suspension”, how soon could I “restart” my benefits?

Signed: Having Second Thoughts

Dear Second Thoughts: The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 closed a loophole which previously allowed someone to file for their Social Security retirement benefit in order for their marital partner to claim a spousal benefit, after which the primary beneficiary could suspend their own benefit and allow it to grow to maximum at age 70. That “file and suspend” option went away in April of 2016; thus, your wife cannot claim her spousal benefit while your Social Security retirement benefits are suspended (you must be “actively” receiving benefits for your wife to get benefits on your record).

Nevertheless, because you’ve already reached your full retirement age, you can voluntarily suspend your benefit payments at any time to allow it to continue growing by simply calling Social Security at your local office (or at the national number (800) 772.1213) and asking them to do so. Your wife will not receive her spousal benefits for any months your benefits are suspended, but she would continue to get her own SS retirement amount (only the spousal portion of her monthly amount would be suspended).

You will be able to restart your benefits at any time by calling Social Security again and asking that your benefits be resumed. You can suspend and restart your benefits as needed (no restriction on how many times), but they will only start/resume the suspension effective with the month following the month you call. And, as you likely already know, for each month your benefits are suspended you will earn Delayed Retirement Credits resulting in a higher payment amount later.

Just for clarity, voluntary suspension of benefits is only available to those who have reached full retirement age but is an excellent way to increase your monthly Social Security payment. Your benefit will grow by .667 percent for each month suspended and, if your benefit is still suspended when you turn 70 years old, Social Security will automatically resume payments at that time, at your higher maximum monthly amount.