It’s not hard to see the logic. If you wait until you are 70 to take your Social Security benefit, you will receive monthly payments that are 32 percent higher than the benefits you would have received at 66, which is the retirement age for many Americans. Retirees who wait to claim can get hundreds of dollars more each month than those who take benefits early.
However, only 2 percent of men and 4 percent of women wait until 70, according to a Center for Retirement Research at Boston College analysis of Social Security Administration data. Most Americans take Social Security before full retirement age, often because they can’t afford not to. Far more people (42 percent of men and 48 percent of women) take Social Security as soon as they are eligible at age 62.
“Most financial advisors say wait until 70,” says Hans Scheil, CEO of Cardinal Retirement Planning in Cary, North Carolina, and author of “The Complete Cardinal Guide to Planning for and Living in Retirement.” But there are also cases when it makes sense to start benefits earlier. Here are some tips to help you make your Social Security claiming decision:
Do not look at Social Security in isolation. Social Security is just one component of your retirement income, and your other income sources should also play a role in your claiming decision. “A lot of people look at Social Security as a stand-alone event, when in reality it’s a part of the financial situation,” says John Gajkowski, a principal of Money Managers Financial Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. If Social Security is your only source of retirement income, the claiming decision is very different from people who have a pension or 401(k) that will also provide steady income. “It depends on their preference, health, whether they are married, whether they have savings and their retirement savings,” Scheil says.
Consider your longevity. Some individuals look at longevity and their family history when making Social Security decisions. If you have a relatively short life expectancy, that may help make the case for taking Social Security early. “If there are health issues, you also might consider not waiting,” Gajkowski says. Gajkowski had a 61-year-old client who had four bouts with cancer, and he recommended that his client take Social Security at age 62. “But if everyone in your family lives until 90 or 95, consider delaying,” Gajkowski says.
Separate the emotional from the financial. “The majority of people take [Social Security] early,” Gajkowski says. “It’s their shot at freedom. They worked hard, put their money into the system and want to get it out as soon as possible.” But rather than making an emotional decision, create a My Social Security account and examine how much you will receive at various claiming ages. While signing up for Social Security does have an emotional element, understand the benefits and consequences of signing up at each age.
Take the time to do some research before you sign up for Social Security. If you already started your benefit and change your mind, there may still be a few ways to increase your payments.