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Social Security Mailbox

How Much Does Early Retirement Reduce Benefits?

A sliding scale determines cuts in your check

Woman holding calculator, when to start Social Security benefits

Use AARP's Social Security Calculator to help estimate your potential retirement benefits. — Getty Images

En español | Q: Since I have no income coming in, and my unemployment benefits were exhausted last December, I have no choice but to file for Social Security benefits when I turn 65 in May 2013. Will this affect my payments because I'm not waiting until I am 66?

A: Yes, but only by a relatively small amount. In your case, the reduction will be 6.7 percent. Let me explain why.

Social Security retirement benefits are designed so that you get your full benefit if you wait until your full retirement age to turn on the tap. For a person like yourself, who was born between 1943 and 1954, that age is 66.

See also: Social Security Benefits Calculator

The earliest age at which you can start collecting Social Security is 62. However, that would mean a cut in benefits of about 25 percent. For instance, if you're entitled to $1,000 a month if you start at 66, you would receive only $750 at 62.

But the longer you wait, the higher your monthly check will be. If you started at full retirement age, you would get 100 percent of your full benefit. Here's a list of the early retirement cuts if your full retirement age is 66 starting at:

  • Age 62 brings a cut of 25 percent
  • Age 63, 20 percent
  • Age 64, 13.3 percent
  • Age 65, 6.7 percent

For people born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age will be 67 and the early-claim reductions will generally rise starting at:

  • Age 62 will bring a cut of 30 percent
  • Age 63, 25 percent
  • Age 64, 20 percent
  • Age 65, 13.3 percent
  • Age 66, 6.7 percent

Someone who can wait beyond full retirement age to start benefits can get more than 100 percent of the full benefit, through what's known as delayed retirement credits. They top out at age 70. Meanwhile, Social Security issues this warning: If you delay your benefits until after age 65, you should probably still apply for Medicare within three months of your 65th birthday. If you wait longer, your Medicare Part B and prescription drug coverage (Part D) may cost you more money each month.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.

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SPOUSAL BENEFITS: A little-known rule allows wives to claim Social Security spousal benefits early.

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