Many people think of the Social Security retirement age as 65. Or maybe they have a vague idea that it’s been raised over the years, so now it’s even more.
That’s sort of accurate and sort of not. In fact, you can commence your Social Security retirement benefits any time from age 62 to age 70.
It’s true that there’s something called “full retirement age,” which is 65 and is gradually being raised to 67. However you don’t have to wait until then to start drawing Social Security.
But let’s be more specific.
The age at which you choose to start your Social Security retirement benefits affects the size of your monthly check. Each year you wait after you turn 62 increases the size of your checks by about 8%.
So if, for example, you would get $1,000 per month for the rest of your life if you started your benefits at age 62, waiting one year and starting them at age 63 instead means you’ll receive about $1,080 per month for the rest of your life. If you wait until age 64, you’ll get about $1,160 per month, etc.
The earlier you start your benefits, the more total checks you’ll get, but the smaller those checks will be.
When it’s best to start your benefits will come down to a number of factors. One is actuarial. The longer you expect to live, the more it makes sense to start your benefits later, as you’ll be drawing the bigger checks for a long time once you do start.
But you also want to look at such factors as where the money would come from to support yourself if you waited to start your Social Security benefits. If you would have to cash in assets that are making a significant rate of return for you each year, for instance, you might be better off not touching those assets and using your Social Security money instead.
Another key factor is whether you expect to work and earn significant money after age 62. Any year prior to the aforementioned “full retirement age,” if you are already drawing Social Security yet still working as well, then your Social Security benefits will be reduced by 50% of any employment income you receive over $14,160. So you almost certainly want to hold off starting your benefits until full retirement age if you’ll be making much money working.
There’s also the matter of when the money will have more value to you. Would you rather have a little more money now, or be drawing bigger checks when you’re 95? When will you need the money more? When will you better be able to enjoy it?
If you decide that all things considered it makes sense for you to start your Social Security retirement benefits early when you’re 62, you can apply up to three months in advance, so as soon as you turn 61 years and 9 months.
Applying is easy. Use any of these methods:
* Fill out the four-page Social Security Benefit Application online.
* Call the Social Security Administration’s toll free phone number 800-772-1213.
* Make an appointment and go to your local Social Security office in person. (Use the online Social Security Office Locator if you don’t know where the nearest office is.)
* If you are overseas, contact the nearest Social Security international office, United States Embassy, or United States Consulate.
When you apply, you may be asked to provide one or more of the following documents:
* Social Security card.
* United States birth certificate.
* Proof other than a birth certificate of United States citizenship or lawful alien status.
* Military discharge papers.
* Most recent year’s tax return and W-2 forms.
Your application and materials will be reviewed, and you’ll be notified when your retirement benefits will start, or why you are not eligible to start your benefits yet.
Thomas M. Dalton, “Retirement at 62: Is Receiving Social Security Early Worth It?” The CPA Journal.
Eva Rosenberg, “Taking Social Security Early Can Be Expensive.” Wall Street Journal.
“How Work Affects Your Benefits.” Social Security Online.
“When to Start Receiving Benefits.” Social Security Online.