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Choosing When to Take Social Security Benefits

Here’s a look at what 4 people decided when they reviewed their finances

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When are you planning to take Social Security? Some people take their benefit early, at a considerably reduced rate, because they need the income now. Others hold off so that they can collect the maximum amount for the rest of their lives. It's a personal decision that has permanent consequences. The four adults here opened up to us about their strategies for claiming Social Security. What choice would you make?

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Louis Steadwell, Social Security (Eli Meir Kaplan)

Louis Steadwell, a realtor in good health, is waiting until he's 70 to collect his maximum benefit. — Eli Meir Kaplan

Louis Steadwell, 69, Washington, D.C.

Job: Realtor

Age at which he will collect Social Security: 70

Monthly benefit: $1,878

A Realtor for more than 30 years, Louis Steadwell says he's stashed away some money for his retirement over the years but not enough. So it was worth it for him to wait until he's 70 in January to collect the maximum benefit, which will be about $150 a month more than if he had collected at 66.

"I investigated taking my benefit at 65, but then I learned the full retirement age was 66. Upon investigating further, I learned that if I waited to 70, I'd get substantially more. So I thought I'll wait till 70. I'm in good health."

Phil, Social Security (Michael Rubenstein)

Phillip Morrow earns a full-time salary, enjoys work, receives his maximum benefit with no plans to retire. — Michael Rubenstein

Phillip Morrow, 70 , New York

Job: CEO at a nonprofit

Age at which he will collect Social Security: 70

Monthly benefit: $3,350

Phillip Morrow says he plans to retire, well, never. He makes a good living and enjoys his work. He runs a nonprofit that helps people find work and housing, among other services. Because he earns a full-time salary, Morrow says he didn't need the Social Security income and decided to wait until he turned 70 to collect the maximum benefit.

"There's at least a 30 percent increase in the benefit amount if you wait until you're 70. People told me I was giving up money for all the years in between 66 and 70. To make up the difference, I'd have to live a long time, but who knows? I just might. For me, it didn't make sense to collect at a lower rate."

Bob Staehle, Social Security (Eli Meir Kaplan)

Bob Staehle, living frugally off his savings since 2011, can't afford to wait past 62 to collect his benefit. — Eli Meir Kaplan

Bob Staehle, 61, Silver Spring, Md.

Job: Retired electrician

Age at which he will collect Social Security: 62

Monthly benefit: $1,000

As an electrician making service calls, Bob Staehle never knew what awaited him. One day he'd be in a sweltering attic, he says, another day he'd be working outside in frigid temperatures. "It was very physical. What was fun for a 23-year-old wasn't for a 60-year-old," he says. "I couldn't do it anymore."

See also: When to Claim Social Security Benefits

He retired in 2011 and has been living frugally off his savings. He plans to collect his Social Security benefit when he turns 62 in October. "I need the money," he says. "I can't afford to wait. It would probably be the majority of my income."

Barbara Kaase, Social Security (Brandon Thibodeaux/MJR)

Barbara Kaase's eye health issues caused her to collect her Social Security benefit a year shy of her maximum benefit age. — Brandon Thibodeaux/MJR

Barbara Kaase, 69, Mesquite, Texas

Job: Information technology manager

Age at which she claimed Social Security: 65

Monthly benefit: $2,080

Serious eye problems led Barbara Kaase to retire at age 65 and collect her Social Security benefit. She knows that if she had waited one more year, she would have been able to draw a full benefit. But she said the gap in the benefit amount wasn't enough to warrant delaying it for a year — not with the health issues she was trying to deal with.

"The difference between collecting at 65 and 66 did not seem as significant as my being able to deal with my eye problems," she says. "You do what makes sense for you at the time."

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