The “Start, Stop, Start” Method of Retirement Planning

social security

It’s never too early to start planning for a successful and comfortable retirement. As such, retirement planning is a complex thing, and there are many facets and aspects to consider when navigating your way towards retirement. Among these is the role of social security, which is often a significant financial component in a retirement plan. Social security benefits can appear deceptively simple–you turn 65 and start collecting, right? As it turns out, there’s a great deal more to consider. If you do some reading about social security and retirement planning, you’ll likely encounter references to the “Start, Stop, Start” method. “Start, Stop, Start” is a strategy employed while collecting social security benefits in order to get the most of those benefits. However, it’s a complex strategy to employ, so let’s look into it in a bit more detail and discuss its advantages and limitations.

How Does “Start, Stop, Start” Work?

Essentially, “Start, Stop, Start” works as the name implies: you begin drawing social security benefits at age 62, continue drawing them for a while, and then suspend them so that you can begin drawing them again at a later date. The advantage here is that your retirement credits will grow at 80% a year until you reach retirement age. There is no advantage in delaying benefits after the age of 70, but until then “Start, Stop, Start” can be a useful tool in expanding the benefits you do receive. You can more easily calculate the effect that “Start, Stop, Start” will have on your social security benefits by using the calculator provided by the SSA here.

Advantages and Limitations of “Start, Stop, Start”

As you might expect, there are some limitations on “Start, Stop, Start” that you will want to consider before adopting it as a retirement strategy. Due to a series of legislative changes in 2015, “Start, Stop, Start” now has some additional time restrictions. Namely, if you begin drawing benefits at 62 with the aim of suspending them later, you’ll only have 12 months to make that decision. And if you do choose to suspend your benefits, you’ll be required to repay the amount drawn from social security. In addition, any monies are drawn count as a social security withdrawal. At that point, your only remaining option will be to continue to draw benefits until you reach the retirement age of 65. At that point, you may suspend them again until you reach the age of 70. You may only do this once.

There are some restrictions on “Start, Stop, Start” for couples as well. Prior to 2015, couples could draw spousal benefits while delaying their own. This is no longer the case, although this faulty guidance still appears on some financial blogs.

“Start, Stop, Start” And Your Retirement

Whether or not “Start, Stop, Start” is the best choice for you and your retirement plans is a complex question. Social Security and “Start, Stop, Start” must be considered carefully, both on their own merits and requirements and in the context of your broader retirement plan. With that in mind, the question of “Start, Stop, Start” is likely best discussed with a professional who has full knowledge of your retirement needs and goals. Their guidance and insight will help you select the right series of retirement strategies for your unique situation.