What age should I take Social Security?

When retirement planning begins, understanding Social Security benefits can be overwhelming and many questions may arise. Should I include Social Security in retirement planning? What age should I take it? What if I need to stop working before then? What if I want to continue working? What about my spouse’s Social Security? And how does other retirement money factor in? There’s a lot to consider!

We’ve all heard the traditional advice: that you should wait as long as possible to claim your Social Security benefits so that you can maximize your monthly income. While that’s a great idea in theory, it ignores the complex realities of people’s lives. It is important to take a look at your unique situation before making a decision.

In this article, we will be detailing the criteria you should look at to determine the best plan for your own Social Security benefits. Before we get to that, it is important to understand the structure of Social Security benefits. Here are the highlights:

  • We each have a baseline full retirement age (FRA) determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It used to be 65 but has been raised to 67 since people are living longer. You can find your FRA here. It is 67 for anybody born after 1960.
  • You can choose to take your Social Security benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70, but your monthly benefits are changed as a result.
  • If you take your benefits earlier than your FRA, your benefits will be lower every month — however you will get those benefits for more years. (Up to 30% lower if retirement is taken five full years early.)
  • If you take your benefits later than your FRA, your benefits will be higher every month — however you will get those benefits for less years. (Eight percent increase per each year you delay retirement.)

Once you begin taking your Social Security benefits, your benefits are fixed for the rest of your life. You can’t change your mind and decide to delay your retirement once you start receiving benefits. However, there is a yearly Social Security “Cost of Living Adjustment,” allowing benefits increase to keep up with inflation and living expenses. In 2022, there is a 5.9% increase — the largest since 1982.

Now that you understand the Social Security benefits structure, it’s time to dive into the details of your own situation. Here are the things you need know, before you can decide your benefits timeline: 

  1. What is your full retirement age? (Find it here)
  2. What is your baseline FRA monthly benefit amount? This should be listed on the statements you receive from the SSA. You can also create an online account with mySocialSecurity.
  3. What would your benefits be at age 62? (Calculate it here)
  4. What would your benefits be at age 70? (Calculate it here)
  5. At what age would you get more cumulative money, having delayed your SS benefits? That’s called your break even age. This calculator will tell you at what age (i.e. 80, 86, etc.) you’ll have gotten more money by delaying benefits.

Once you’ve gathered all the information above, it’s time to look at the factors that will determine what age you choose to take benefits: 

  • How do your Social Security benefits compare to your retirement spending needs? If your early retirement benefits cover all of your expenses, you might feel comfortable retiring early.
  • Do you have access to health insurance? Medicare only kicks in at age 65 — meaning that if you retire at 62, you will need to find other insurance coverage for those interim years. If you do not have affordable access to insurance, you may save a lot by delaying retirement to 65.
  • If you are married, what are your spouse’s benefits like? When somebody applies for Social Security, the SSA will automatically look at an individual's employment benefits as well as their spousal benefits, and they will receive the higher of the two. The answer to this question will help you understand your family’s holistic financial picture.
  • What is your health like? If you have health issues that impact your longevity, it could make financial sense to start getting benefits earlier, taking your breakeven age into account.
  • Will you or your spouse expect to rely on survivor benefits once one of you passes away? This is never easy to talk about, but it can be an important factor when there’s a large age or health disparity. If there is a significant health or longevity disparity, delaying the primary earner’s Social Security benefits can be hugely beneficial as the surviving spouse can then receive higher benefits for the rest of their life.
  • Do you want to stop working or continue working? Once you hit your FRA, you can earn income while also receiving Social Security benefits. However, if you take early retirement benefits, you cannot earn more than $19,500 per year without your monthly benefits being reduced in response. Once you hit FRA, this no longer applies. 
  • What are your other retirement assets and income? Do you have an IRA, a company pension, or other savings? If Social Security benefits make up a large portion of your retirement income, then you will need to consider delaying retirement until the benefits match your spending needs.

Remember that your personal retirement age does not necessarily equal the age you take benefits. As long as you have assets or income to cover the gap, you could retire at 60 and wait until your FRA to start taking Social Security benefits.

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