• 4-Minute Article
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  • Apr 18, 2018

When Should You Plan to Collect Social Security?

Five questions to ask to help select a start date.

One of the most important decisions to make as retirement gets closer is when to start collecting Social Security benefits.

The fact is, there is no single “best age” to begin — and the timing you choose will depend on your unique financial and personal situation. Here are five questions to ask yourself when trying to determine the right time to claim Social Security benefits.

How will the age when you start affect your monthly benefit?

Although workers can claim Social Security as early as age 62, waiting until normal retirement age — which is age 65+ for people born in 1942 or earlier, 66 for people born from 1943 to 1959, and age 67+ for people born afterward — will generate a “baseline” amount of monthly payments. That amount is based on each individual’s prior earnings history. Retiring before normal retirement age reduces this baseline by roughly 5%-7% for each year you take payments early. Delaying benefits until after normal retirement age increases this amount by about 8% per year, up to age 70. The longer you wait to claim benefits between the ages of 62 and 70, the more each monthly payment grows. The video below shows how the age when someone starts collecting Social Security can affect the amount of the monthly benefit.


Of course, there are pros and cons to either approach. If you claim Social Security early, you will receive that income for more years, but with a smaller monthly payment. If you decide to claim benefits later, you’ll receive payments for fewer years, but each payment will be larger.

What other income sources will you have during retirement?

The availability of income from other sources, such as savings, pensions, mutual funds, or annuities, can affect someone’s claiming strategy, too. People with sufficient income from other sources to cover retirement expenses immediately might prefer to delay claiming Social Security until later in retirement.

Will you continue to work?

Continuing to earn income from a job can affect Social Security benefits. People who work while receiving Social Security before normal retirement age typically will receive a reduction of $1 for every $2 of income earned above an annual limit ($17,040 in 2018). After reaching normal retirement age, earnings no longer reduce the monthly benefit.

However, because Social Security payments are based on a person’s 35 highest earning years, working for a few more years at a high salary before claiming benefits could increase monthly payments.

What is your marital status?

Because married couples often have two separate benefits to think about, they also have more options to consider. For example, some couples may decide to claim one spouse’s Social Security benefits at normal retirement age, while delaying the other spouse’s benefits until age 70 to allow the second monthly payment to grow.

Widowed or divorced individuals may qualify for benefits based on their former spouse’s earnings history, which in some cases can be higher than the benefit they would receive based on their own earnings history. People in these categories should work with a financial professional to examine the options available to them.

How is your health?

Current health and family medical history can affect how much income a retiree might need to cover medical expenses in retirement — and when they’ll need it most.

For example, an individual in good health with a healthy family medical history may be less likely to need Social Security early in retirement to help pay for healthcare expenses than someone with an ongoing condition such as diabetes or heart disease. If they live a long and healthy life, they may need the “safety net” of Social Security later in retirement when other savings could be depleted.

To learn more about your options

The Social Security website offers a wealth of information, charts, calculators, and answers to frequently asked questions about the benefits available to recipients. You can also call or stop by your local Social Security office to speak with a representative, learn more about your benefits, and get answers to your technical questions.

However, because Social Security can’t offer personalized advice to participants, enlist the help of a financial professional, who can work with you to develop a claiming strategy based on your individual situation.