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File and Suspend: A Social Security Strategy for Married & Single Retirees

Published May 5, 2015

The Social Security claiming strategy known as “file and suspend” is often used by married couples entering retirement, but it can be useful for single retirees as well.

Most people approaching retirement age are aware that the decision of when to start taking Social Security retirement benefits affects the amount of the payments. Retirees can start accepting benefits at age 62, at age 70, or somewhere in between. The longer the delay, the greater the monthly payments will be. For each year a person waits after full retirement age, the lifetime payout increases by about eight percent.

“File and suspend,” in the context of a married couple, is used to allow a spouse to claim a spousal benefit while the main beneficiary delays collecting benefits. The main beneficiary files for benefits at full retirement age but immediately suspends receipt of the benefits; the spouse can then begin receiving a spousal benefit based on the main beneficiary’s monthly benefits at the time of filing. However, the main beneficiary’s monthly benefit continues to grow due to delayed retirement credits.

The file and suspend strategy also has a benefit for single retirees. A single person may choose to file for retirement benefits upon reaching full retirement age, but immediately suspend receipt. Having done this, the retiree then has the option, anytime before age 70, of receiving those benefits retroactively in a lump sum. While this would result in the retiree losing the delayed retirement credits, it is an option that many people may wish to have available.

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