When Should I Start Claiming Social Security Benefits?

Social Security retirement benefits may be reduced, increased or unaffected, depending upon your age when you start the benefits. You are entitled to your full retirement benefit (no increase or decrease) at the so-called Full Retirement Age (FRA), defined as follows:

 

 Birth Year  Full Retirement Age
 1943-1954  66
 1954-1959  66 plus two or more months 
 1960 and later   67

 

Benefit Impact

  1. Reduced benefits. If you start benefits between age 62 and your Full Retirement Age, your benefit amount will be permanently reduced up to 30 percent.
  2. Full benefits. If you start benefits at your Full Retirement Age, there is no reduction or increase in your benefit amount.
  3. Increased benefits. If you start benefits between your Full Retirement Age and age 70, your benefit amount will be permanently increased by up to 32 percent.

Making the decision of when to start Social Security benefits involves many variables, such as age, health, marital status, income level, tax bracket and others. In terms of general guidelines, there are a few situations when starting benefits early or later may make sense.

 

Reasons to Start Benefits Early

  • You may be in poor health and/or have a short life expectancy.
  • You may be out of work and need the income now to make ends meet.

Reasons to Delay Benefits

  • You are in good health and/or have a long life expectancy.
  • You currently are in a higher federal income tax bracket, such as 25 percent or more, because up to 85 percent of Social Security benefits may be taxable.
  • You want an increased permanent benefit amount.

Considerations based on marital status.

  • Married men, single men, and single women should claim benefits no earlier than their Full Retirement Age, currently 66 to 67.
  • A married woman should start benefits early. The Society of Actuaries suggests the strategy of a wife starting her benefits early (age 62) while the husband delays as long as possible (this assumes the husband has earned more than the wife). If both live to age 70, then he starts his benefit at a greatly increased amount. Then if he dies before her (say five years later at age 75 or whenever), she can switch to his now much higher benefit. They’ve enjoyed her benefit for years (between age 62 and 70) and the wife, assuming she will outlive her husband, has kind of an insurance policy benefit—her deceased husband’s increased Social Security benefit.