What’s the Best Age to Begin Claiming Social Security Benefits?

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Imagine a decision that could mean the gain—or loss—of tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your life. Every day, retirees are faced with this crucial choice: when to start receiving their Social Security benefits. And it’s often more complicated than it might seem.

We don’t recommend you plan to depend on Social Security in retirement, but it’s still a good idea to know how to optimize your benefits when the time comes. We talked to several experts to help you decide on the best strategy for your circumstances.

Why Your Starting Age Matters

“It’s a personal decision—there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” says Bill Losey, a certified financial planner™ in upstate New York who specializes in counseling women and couples. “But think about waiting rather than grabbing your benefits as soon as you can, especially if you’re planning a long retirement.”

To understand why, the first thing you need to know is your full retirement age (FRA), which varies depending on which year you were born. Those born in 1954, for instance, have an FRA of 66. After that year, the FRA rises gradually until it reaches 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later. You can find your exact FRA with this calculator.

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Social Security payments are based on a formula that takes into account your 35 highest wage-earning years. But payments are also affected by what age you start collecting benefits. Currently, the earliest you can begin claiming them is age 62. Taking your benefits early means you’ll get lower monthly payments than if you had waited for your FRA. You can also put off drawing benefits and earn higher payments for each extra month you wait until age 70. This table helps you see the differences in payments.

For example, let’s say your FRA is 67 and you waited until then to begin drawing your benefit of $1,200 a month. Your payment would be only $840 if you claimed your benefits early at age 62, but it would climb to $1,488 if you waited until age 70. And whatever amount you start with is the basis for all future cost-of-living adjustments, so the gap between the amounts widens over time.

Unknown Factors

That’s the reason experts generally advise waiting as long as possible to claim benefits. Yet a majority of people start their benefits early, especially women. Whether this is a smart move depends partly on how long you live. If you begin collecting benefits earlier, you get less money per month but for a longer period of time. If you start later, you get more money per month but for a shorter time period of time.

  • Tahoe Joe

    Pretty good article covering the various scenarios. The most important thing is that there is no one answer. I did a spreadsheet using my specific numbers and my breakeven (using 5% ROI and 2% COLA) would be in my mid to late 80s. I did not factor in taxes which could push it to later dates assuming I would be be paying higher taxes on the money from ss after 70 when I start having to take RMDs from my IRA.