The earliest you can start collecting retirement benefits is age 62. You can apply once you reach 61 years and 9 months of age.
However, Social Security reduces your payment if you start collecting before your full retirement age, or FRA. (FRA is 66 and 4 months for people born in 1956 and is gradually rising to 67 for those born in 1960 or later.) Only then do you qualify for 100 percent of your basic monthly benefit, which is calculated from your 35 highest-earning years.
Your payment will increase even more if you wait until age 70 to apply, as you’ll be accruing delayed retirement credits. (You can apply later than 70, but it doesn’t change your benefit.)
The starting age can differ for other types of Social Security benefits.
Spousal benefits: These can begin at 62, as long as the spouse on whose work record you are claiming them is receiving retirement benefits.
Survivor benefits: You can apply for benefits on the record of a deceased spouse or ex-spouse at 60; 50 if you are disabled; or any age if you are caring for the deceased’s under-16 or disabled child.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): No age requirement, but you must have spent some time in work in which you paid Social Security taxes. The amount of time increases with age, but you may qualify for SSDI with less time in the workforce than you need to collect retirement benefits. You must also demonstrate that your medical condition meets Social Security’s strict definition of disability and show evidence that it prevents you from working.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is facing a large backlog of disability claims that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency had nearly 764,000 applications for disability benefits pending at end of its 2020 fiscal year, a 28.5 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the SSA's 2020 annual performance report.
Keep in mind
The question of when you can receive benefits is separate from a more important question: When should you claim benefits? The answer is complicated and depends on your job situation, family circumstances, and financial and physical health.
Updated April 28, 2022
Find the answers to the most common Social Security questions such as when to claim, how to maximize your retirement benefits and more.