• 4-Minute Article
  • |
  • Apr 18, 2018

When Should You Plan to Collect Social Security?

Five questions to ask to help select a start date.

Questions this article can help you answer:
  • When can I begin collecting benefits?
  • Does marital status affect Social Security benefits?
  • How can my health affect my benefits?

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

The truth is that there isn’t a single “best age” to begin receiving benefits. The timing you choose will depend on your unique financial and personal situation. Here are five questions to ask yourself when determining the right time to claim Social Security benefits.

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

Workers can claim Social Security as early as age 62. But waiting until full retirement age – which is age 65+ for people born in 1942 or earlier, 66 for people born from 1943 to 1954, and over age 66 for people born afterward – will generate a “baseline” amount of monthly payments.1 That amount is based on each individual’s prior earnings history. Retiring before full retirement age reduces this baseline by roughly 5-7% for each year you take payments early. Delaying benefits until after full retirement age increases this amount by about 8% per year, up to age 70.2 The longer you wait to claim benefits between the ages of 62 and 70, the more each monthly payment grows.


Of course, there are pros and cons to either approach. If you claim Social Security early, you’ll receive those benefits for a longer period, but your monthly payment will be smaller. Whereas if you claim benefits later, you’ll receive payments for fewer years, but each payment will be larger.

2. 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.

3. Will you continue to work?

Continuing to earn income from a job can affect Social Security benefits. If you’re younger than full retirement age and receive social security benefits, the U.S. Social Security Administration will deduct $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit. (In 2020, the annual limit is $18,240.) After reaching full retirement age, your earnings have no bearing on your benefit payments.3

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 your monthly payments.

4. What is your marital status?

Filing for retirement and spousal benefits comes with its own set of considerations. Your benefits increase each month you delay receiving retirement benefits. So, a married couple can claim one spouse’s Social Security benefits at full retirement age and delay 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 as well. In some cases, this benefit can be greater 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.

5. How is your health?

A retiree’s current health and their family medical history can affect how much income they 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 available benefits. 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, you’re encouraged to enlist the help of a financial professional , who can work with you to develop a claiming strategy based on your individual situation.