Today my husband took a day off from work so we could visit the Social Security office together. Not exactly a fun way to spend such a beautiful day. But we did it because the government is about to eliminate yet another way that middle-class people, like ourselves, can benefit from a lifetime of hard work. The “file and suspend” option is about to end permanently in a few months thereby preventing couples from eking the most out of their Social Security benefits.
I will not attempt to explain what “file and suspend” means since my understanding of it is still in the infancy stage. If you want more of an explanation you can find it on the Social Security website. I learned about this important option several years ago, but didn’t act on it because I was told by someone on the phone at the SS office that unless my husband was of “full retirement age” we could not “file and suspend.” Then a year or so later I got cancer and the matter was forgotten until recently as we began to put the pieces of our life back together.
The subject came up again recently as I began to plan for a visit with my financial advisor who was not well informed about the file and suspend option when I first presented it to him two or three years ago.
So much for cashing in on one of those “perks” that once existed for middle-income people and is about to disappear. It seems that Congress (i.e. Republicans) are eager to take away anything they perceive as a give-away to “takers” like my husband and myself in order to cut government spending. Financial reps are now saying that file and suspend was never meant to be an additional source of funds; that couples like ourselves should have invested in other ways to prepare for retirement. They say that this option was just a fluke in the law that is now being repealed.
Well, guess what? We did invest in other ways, but most of our gains from those investments were severely impacted by the Great Recession of 2008. So, essentially, we have been treading water for the past seven years trying every way we can to make up for what we lost in 2008. I worked until 67 1/2 to maximize my pension (which is still modest since I was not a "career teacher"). I have delayed taking my SS benefits until I turn 70 to maximize them, but was that a wise move considering I am now a cancer survivor? And my husband is doggedly commuting back and forth to Queens each day so he can close the gap on our income since I retired and we lost so much in the recession. He will do this as long as he can.
Please don’t think I am whining. I am all too aware of all the people in the world less fortunate than we are, and things seem to be getting worse for them each day. As a family, we do our part to make donations to those in need of housing or medical care. We have “been there” what with my daughter’s 5 open-heart surgeries and my own recent cancer experience, so I like to think we are compassionate people. We do know what it’s like to have your life change in a minute. But I also do feel for “average Americans” who, like us, are struggling to reap the benefits of their hard labor.
I am happy to say that we had, dare I say, a “pleasant” experience at the SS office. The woman who helped us was bright and capable and even offered us a piece or two of valuable advice regarding ways we might be able to help our daughter. So, for today, this story has a happy ending, but I’m sure it’s not the final chapter!