What if you signed up for Social Security benefits and now regret the decision? Is a “do-over” possible?
Suppose, for example, you didn’t work during the pandemic, and you applied for Social Security because you needed the income. Now, you are able to return to work and want to let your Social Security benefits keep growing so your retirement checks will be bigger.
Can you stop taking the benefit and sign up again later? Yes, some people — but not everyone — can do this.
We asked Russell Settle, an expert on Social Security claiming strategies, how this option — known as withdrawing your Social Security retirement application — works, and who is eligible. Settle is a partner in Social Security Choices, a company that helps workers plan how to maximize benefits.
Settle recommends following these steps if you are thinking of withdrawing your application.
1. Get to know the rules
First, find out if you are eligible and how withdrawing would affect you.
Call your local Social Security office and ask what is at stake. Here are some basic rules:
- Not everyone is eligible. “With the current law, you’ve got 12 months once you start your benefits to change your mind,” Settle says. If you aren’t eligible to withdraw, another option — “suspending” benefits — might work for you.
- It will cost you. You’ll have to pay back the money you received from Social Security. This includes:
- Monthly Social Security retirement checks you’ve received
- Medicare premiums withheld from benefit checks
- Money that your family, including a spouse or children, received based on your Social Security application
- Income tax withheld from your benefit checks
- Money garnished from benefit checks to make court-ordered payments for child support, alimony or victim restitution, or to repay certain debts you owed to the federal government
- Just one do-over is allowed. Only one withdrawal from Social Security is allowed in a lifetime. Before 2010, things were different. At that time, you could start, stop (repaying what you had received) and restart any number of times. This allowed you to treat Social Security, “basically, (as) an interest-free loan that you could start up again at a higher benefit,” Settle says.
- Your Medicare may be affected. Social Security and Medicare are closely linked. If your Medicare Part B premiums are paid out of your Social Security checks, you’ll have to pay those premiums out-of-pocket after withdrawing. Settle recommends setting up an automatic payment with your bank, since you could lose Part B Medicare coverage if the payments lapse.
- You might lose your SSI. Withdrawing from Social Security could disqualify you from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability payments.
2. Download the form
Applying isn’t difficult, Settle says. Just find the simple two-page form at the Social Security site, Form SSA-521.
Download and print the form.
3. Fill out the form
Fill out the form. It asks the type of benefit you are withdrawing from — Social Security, in this case — and asks whether you want to continue using Medicare.
You’ll also be asked to give a reason for withdrawing — that you want to continue working, for instance.
Print it out and mail it to your local Social Security office. “Keep a copy of it, that’s for sure,” Settle advises.
4. Be patient
Now, all you have to do is wait. “Social Security will contact you and ask you to pay back the money they’ve given you,” Settle says.
It’s hard to predict how long that might take. “With Social Security, it’s so specific to the office you’re dealing with,” Settle says. “My local office seems to be very efficient. I’ve heard horror stories about other locations, though.” The Social Security system, in general, is overworked and underfunded, and some personnel are not well-trained, in Settle’s experience.
One more thing: What if you change your mind and decide not to withdraw from taking Social Security after all?
It is possible to rescind your request, but move quickly. Contact your local office immediately to ask how to proceed. Social Security will let beneficiaries cancel an approved withdrawal request without penalty only within a 60-day window, starting on the date your withdrawal was approved.