Apply three months before you want to start collecting. Be aware that Social Security pays a month behind — if you're entitled to a benefit for the month of March, it's paid to you in April. And if you want to start retirement benefits at the earliest possible age, 62, the first payment will arrive two months after the month of your birthday. For example, if your birthday is Feb. 15, your first month of entitlement for benefits will be March, and your first payment will arrive in April.
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