Can You Undo Your Social Security Benefits?

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The decision to file for Social Security isn't one to be taken lightly. That's why it's smart to weigh the pros and cons of filing at different ages before moving forward.

Often, it pays to wait until full retirement age (FRA) to claim your benefits. Doing so ensures that you don't reduce your monthly payments in the process. FRA is dependent on your year of birth, as follows:

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Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age

1943-1954

66

1955

66 and 2 months

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960

67

That said, you don't have to wait until FRA to file for Social Security. You're allowed to claim benefits as early as age 62, but for each month you sign up ahead of FRA, your monthly payments get reduced. In some cases, you may have no choice but to file early -- say, if you've lost your job or encountered another scenario in which you need money.

But what if you do end up claiming Social Security early, only to regret that decision after the fact? Are you really stuck with a reduced benefit for life?

If you've been receiving benefits for less than a year, then thankfully, you're not. That's because Social Security gives you a single do-over in your lifetime, and if you take advantage of that option in time, you can withdraw your application, file again at a later point, and avoid a long-term reduction in your monthly payments.

Undoing your benefits

If you've changed your mind about filing for Social Security, you get a single opportunity to withdraw your benefits application within a year and then reapply later on. That said, undoing your decision isn't that easy, because to complete the process, you'll need to repay all of the Social Security benefits you've collected to date. This includes any spousal benefits your partner may have received based on your work record and any money that was withheld from your benefits, such as the cost of your Medicare premiums.

Speaking of Medicare, just because you're withdrawing your Social Security application doesn't mean you need to do the same for Medicare. If you'd like to continue receiving health benefits, you'll just need to start paying your premiums directly, as opposed to having them deducted from your benefit payments.

Why you might want a do-over

Much of the time, people who claim Social Security early do so for a reason -- one that boils down to a need for money. In that case, repaying what could be up to a year's worth of benefits may not be feasible, thereby negating the do-over option for seniors who change their minds about filing.

If you find that you no longer need the money, however, and that you're able to pay back those benefits, you'll avoid a lifelong reduction in Social Security that might hurt you later on. For example, say you filed early because of a job loss, only you were then hired somewhere five months later. If, upon starting that new job, you're able to save aggressively to repay the benefits you collected, you might withdraw your application and file again at a later point in time, locking in a higher monthly benefit.

When a do-over isn't an option

If you've been collecting Social Security for more than 12 months, withdrawing your application isn't an option. What you can do, however, is suspend your Social Security benefits upon reaching FRA and accrue delayed retirement credits until age 70. Those credits will boost your benefits so that once you start claiming them again, you'll collect a higher amount each month.

It pays to put a lot of thought into Social Security before signing up. That said, if you file and then change your mind, there are options you can pursue. Just be aware of how the do-over process works so that you don't miss out on the chance to capitalize on it should you regret your filing decision after the fact.

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