Financial planners say wait until 70, but few Americans take that advice.

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% higher than the benefits you would have received at age 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 5% of men and 7% of women wait until 70, according to Social Security Administration data. About half of Americans take Social Security before full retirement age, often because they can’t afford not to. Over a quarter of men and just under a third 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’s how to decide whether to claim Social Security at age 70:

  • Do not look at Social Security in isolation.
  • Consider your longevity.
  • Separate the emotional from the financial.
  • Run the numbers.
  • Be realistic.

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.

Run the Numbers

There is no universal rule of thumb about the best age to sign up. “But generally, financially, as a rule of thumb, if you can wait, it’s not a bad option to wait,” says Dan Houston, CEO of Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, Iowa.

Those who wait get bigger checks in the later part of retirement, when going back to work may no longer be a realistic option. However, they also forgo several years of potential income in the early part of retirement.

“When you get to be 70, you will get a bigger check, but you will have gone without checks for four years,” Scheil says. “If you wait until 70, you will get enough more money that if you live until 80 or 90, everything after that will be gravy or (a) profit.”

Be Realistic

A lot of people can’t afford to wait to sign up for Social Security. Consider that most Americans have not saved enough for retirement.

“The biggest challenge for most people is they under-save for retirement,” Houston says. Many people can improve their financial situation by working in retirement, but you could also end up retiring earlier than you planned to. “They can work in retirement, but unfortunately 50% of Americans end up retiring before they had planned for three reasons: The first reason is their health, the second reason is their spouse’s health and the third reason is that their services are no longer necessary – they were terminated,” Houston says. So, planning to continue to work during retirement is not always an option.

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.

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