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When should I start collecting my Social Security retirement benefit?

That’s a complicated and highly individual question. You can claim Social Security as early as age 62, but many personal-finance experts tell their clients to put off filing for benefits as long as possible. There’s no denying this will maximize your monthly payments. But that’s not necessarily the end of the discussion. 

The basic question is, should you start your benefit earlier, at a reduced amount, or start later at a higher level? If you delay, your eventual Social Security payment will keep rising, until you hit 70. But many other factors come into play in determining the best age for you to claim benefits, including your physical well-being, marital status, financial needs and job satisfaction. Here are some key things to consider:

  • How’s your health, and your family’s health history? If you have a reasonable expectation of living decades past retirement, postponing benefits to get a bigger payment could prove important to your long-term financial stability. But if you turn 62 in poor health, or have a genetic predisposition to certain illnesses, you may decide it makes more sense for you and your family to get what you can, while you can. 
  • How long do you expect to be steadily employed? Many older workers are being nudged into early retirement as companies downsize, and they wind up spending their last working years in the gig economy. If you find yourself scraping to cover expenses, filing for Social Security at age 62 and taking lower benefits may be what you need to make ends meet. 
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Still, there are strong arguments for waiting as long as you can:

  • Filing earlier locks you into a lower benefit, permanently. You are not entitled to 100 percent of the benefit calculated from your earnings history unless you apply at full retirement age (66 and 6 months for people born in 1957, 66 and 8 months for people born in 1958 and rising two months annually to 67 over the next few years).
  • Continuing to work does not reduce your benefits once you reach full retirement age. Before then, you are subject to earnings limits that could trigger withholding from your Social Security payments (and from those of your spouse and children if they are collecting benefits on your work record).
  • From full retirement age until 70, you can earn delayed retirement credits. These boost your eventual benefit by two-thirds of 1 percent for each month of delay — and increase survivor benefits for your spouse, if you die first.

Keep in mind

Regardless of when you claim Social Security benefits, the sign-up age for Medicare is still 65. You can’t enroll earlier, except under very narrow circumstances, and you may incur hefty fees for signing up later. 

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