How to Halt Your Social Security Retirement Benefits

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2015 AARP

In rare cases, you may start to collect Social Security benefits and then have a change of heart. Maybe you unexpectedly got an offer for that lucrative job you thought was out of reach. Maybe you decided that you want a bigger payment in the future and plan to live off earnings and your nest egg in the meantime. Yes, it would be better to have known such things before you started collecting benefits, but it isn’t necessarily too late to change your mind.

Certain options may be open to you. They have potentially significant differences. If you go down the path of halting benefits, make sure that the SSA representative you deal with has a firm grasp of these rules:

  • Withdrawal of retirement benefits: If you go this route, you have to pay back everything you received from Social Security during the time (less than one year) that you were collecting. Further, you must pay back any money that was withheld from your payments, such as Medicare premiums and tax withholding. On top of that, you have to pay back all benefits that may have gone to your spouse or other financial dependents, based on the application for retirement that you want to withdraw. (The SSA will require that such dependents agree in writing to the halt in benefits.)

    To apply for a withdrawal of retirement benefits, fill out form SSA‐521.

    You may withdraw benefits only within the first year of filing for benefits, and you may make only one such withdrawal in your lifetime. The SSA tightened up the withdrawal rules after some commentators touted the process as a way to get a “free loan” from Social Security.

  • Voluntary suspension of benefits: You may request a voluntary suspension of your Social Security benefits when you’ve reached your full retirement age but have not yet reached 70. Suspension doesn’t cut off the benefits going to your dependents and may be part of a technique used by married couples to increase their lifetime payments. You can make such a request to an SSA representative in person, over the phone, or in writing.

  • Waiver of benefits: If you haven’t reached full retirement age and you want to halt your retirement benefits, but not those of family members getting payments based on your record, you may request a waiver of benefits. You can make such a request to an SSA representative in person or over the phone.

    If you waive benefits and earn enough money, the Social Security earnings test could lead to withholding of benefits to your dependents.