Deciding when to apply for Social Security can be a complicated math problem, one that has a different answer for each person depending on their circumstances. The earlier you file, the lower your benefit amount, but the more payments you receive over time. The later you file, the higher the benefit, but the fewer payments you receive. If you have other income, the portion of your benefit could be taxed — up to 85%. And if you’re married, you may be able to stagger your individual Social Security retirement benefit applications for an optimal financial outcome.
Generally speaking, the main constant in this math problem is a person’s expected Social Security retirement benefit: the amount you would receive if you waited until full retirement age to claim your benefit. By creating an account at SSA.gov , you can see what your benefit is projected to be at each age from 62 on. But there are many other factors to consider when choosing your retirement date.
At What Age Can You Apply for Social Security
Here, you’ll learn more about selecting the right age to apply for Social Security, whether that’s 62 or older.
Applying for Social Security at Age 62
The earliest most people can apply for Social Security is age 62. The greater the difference between when you apply and when you reach full retirement age, the more the Social Security Administration will reduce the amount of your benefit. For those born in 1960 or later, full retirement age is 67. Taking retirement at 62 will cause your benefit to be reduced by about 30%.
If your benefit at full retirement would be $1,000 a month, and you file for benefits at 62, you will only receive about $700 or 70% of the amount you would have received at full retirement. For each month you wait past the age of 62, that amount rises a little bit. At $700 a month, if you lived to the average U.S. lifespan of about 80 years old, you would receive $151,200 over your lifetime.
Applying for Social Security at Age 65
Many people don’t want to wait for their full retirement age. In fact, the average retirement age is 64. If you were born after 1960 and you retire at 65, you can expect to receive 86.7% of your full retirement benefit. The Social Security Retirement Age Calculator shows when to apply for Social Security for maximum benefit with minimum waiting.
Applying for Social Security at Age 67
If you wait to apply for benefits until full retirement, you will get the full amount of your benefit. In the example used above, that would be $1,000 a month. In this scenario, if you live to age 80, you would receive $156,000 over your lifetime, which is $5,000 more than if you filed five years earlier.
Applying for Social Security at Age 70
Every month you delay applying for benefits causes the monthly benefit amount to grow, up until age 70. If you file at age 70, your monthly Social Security retirement payment is 30% higher than it would have been if you filed at full retirement. Rather than receiving $1,000 a month you would receive about $1,300 a month. If you live to age 80, that comes to $156,000 which is the same total amount you would receive if you filed at full retirement age. This brings into the equation one of the factors that influences at what age you may want to file for Social Security benefits: how long you expect to live.
Other Factors That Drive When To Apply For Social Security
Now, here’s what you need to consider in terms of the other factors that impact when you apply for Social Security benefits.
How Long Will You Live?
Of course, no one knows for certain how long they will live. The Social Security Administration has a rather sobering life expectancy calculator that shows at what age a person born on your birthday can expect to die, on average. It’s based on your birthdate and doesn’t factor in health, genetics, or lifestyle. If you expect to live only to age 75, for example, you might be inclined to take your Social Security benefit early so that you could enjoy it for a longer time. But if you live until age 90, taking Social Security retirement benefits early could cost you a lot of money. Here’s how your lifetime benefit would be impacted by filing at different ages if your full retirement benefit is $1,000 a month:
• At age 62, you would receive a total of $235,000 over your lifespan.
• At age 65, you would receive $260,100.
• At 67 that jumps to $276,000.
• If you wait until age 70 it is $312,000.
So, if you expect to live a long life, waiting a few years to file could make a big difference in your total benefit.
Are You Married?
There are many myths around Social Security benefits, so it’s important to delve into your particular situation. Spouses are eligible for half of the benefit their spouse would receive at full retirement age. That amount is reduced if the primary beneficiary files early. For instance, if you apply for Social Security benefits before you reach full retirement age, you would automatically be deemed as applying for spousal benefits as well if your spouse is already receiving benefits. The maximum spousal benefit you can qualify for is typically 50% of your partner’s benefits calculated at full retirement age.
One option for spouses is to file for one spouse’s benefit early, say at 62, and postpone filing for the other spouse’s benefit until age 70. This can provide money now and more money later. If one partner dies, the surviving partner is automatically assigned the higher benefit between their own and their late spouse.
Do You Have Other Income?
You may wonder what is a good monthly retirement income for a couple. Keep in mind that the average couple in their 60s and 70s spends around $4,000 a month, or $48,000 a year.
A lot of that is spent on the typical retirement expenses of housing and healthcare. The average retirement benefit in May 2022 was $1,688. So an average couple would receive $3,376 in benefits. Consequently, many people have to rely on other forms of income including wages from a job, pensions, dividends, interest or capital gains in addition to their Social Security benefit. In fact, having access to other forms of income may impact when you can retire.
If you do have income besides your Social Security benefit, and most people do, you might want to delay claiming your benefit. If you earn income from working, and you claim your benefit before full retirement age, your benefit may be reduced. If you have other types of income, such as pensions or interest on the money you’ve saved in your retirement account, your benefit will not be reduced; these don’t count as earnings. However, you may have to pay taxes on it.
For most people, their Social Security benefit is unlikely to sustain them through their retirement years; they need to have another source of income. The earlier they retire, the smaller their benefit will be and the more they may need a second or third source of income. Gaining that income through wages can reduce your benefit if you retire before full retirement age.
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