PBS runs some pieces by Laurence Kotlikoff on Social Security. His specialty is figuring out angles to increase Social Security payouts. It's all legal but often a bit weird. It's always schemes that only a few people could use. One scheme he's been promoting is for people who are drawing Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) to suspend their Social Security retirement benefits once they reach full retirement age (FRA) and wait until age 70 to start collecting them. He's mad that Social Security has decided to stop this scheme. It's an odd scheme he's been promoting, available to only a few and advisable for even fewer but I think that Social Security's decision to prevent this scheme is wrong.
Let me explain how his scheme would work -- if Social Security allowed it. If you file a claim for DIB, you're also filing a claim for retirement benefits. It says so at the top of the claim form. When you get to FRA, your DIB automatically stops and your retirement benefits start. You don't have to file a claim for the retirement benefits because you did so at the time you filed your DIB claim. A person who never files for DIB can get more per month by waiting until age 70 to file their claim for retirement benefits. It's called the delayed retirement credit. It's a good thing to do if you can afford to wait and if you're healthy because you receive a good deal more per month if you wait until age 70 to start drawing benefits. You can, in the alternative, file a claim for retirement benefits at FRA and ask that Social Security suspend your benefits. You still get the delayed retirement credit but dependent benefits are payable on the account. Kotlikoff was urging DIB recipients to suspend their retirement benefits once they reach FRA, thus getting the delayed retirement credit.
Kotlikoff was unhappy to find out that Social Security decided in December to treat a request to suspend benefits in the automatic conversion situation as a request to withdraw the original DIB claim. That would require the claimant to pay back all DIB benefits that had been received. Almost no one would do that, ending Kotlikoff's scheme.
I think the scheme that Kotlikoff has been promoting would be of value to very, very few people even if it were allowed. The vast majority of people eligible for Social Security retirement benefits have no choice but to take the money in order to support themselves. Many, perhaps most, of those who could afford this strategy shouldn't do it anyway because their life expectancy is low. The very impairments that put them on Social Security disability lower their life expectancy. Even those few claimants who could do this are unlikely to do so because the scheme is so exotic and hard to explain.
Even though I think that Kotlikoff's scheme would be of value to very, very few people, I think that Social Security's position is wrong. I can't think of anything in the Social Security Act that supports the agency's position. There's a difference between asking that benefits be suspended and withdrawing a claim. The agency recognizes that difference. Why would you refuse to recognize that difference in just this one situation? What's wrong with permitting a handful of people to get the delayed retirement credit after being on DIB? Would it be OK if a claimant tells Social Security to stop their DIB a month before they reach FRA and then does a file and suspend? Surely, Kotlikoff will soon figure out that possibility.