When to start Social Security benefits

When should you start your Social Security benefit, age 62, your full retirement age, age 70 or somewhere in between. Frankly, I don’t know. But I do know:

  • Basing your decision on some break even time frame is irrelevant- the total amount you collect in benefits during your life is meaningless- the value is monthly income
  • If you delay taking SS and instead use other assets to live on before SS, there is an opportunity cost – in other words, the money you used instead of SS likely would have grown in value – think 6% to 8% per year, maybe more
  • If you start SS but don’t need the benefit income to live on, you could invest it thereby accumulating more assets that could generate an additional income stream when you do need the money
  • If Social Security is an important part of retirement income, delaying as long as you can will increase your benefit – up to age 70 – and will automatically adjust for inflation.
  • Don’t base your decision on the notion that Social Security will not be there for you if you delay. It will be there for you and everyone else.

6 comments

  1. I retired at age 50 in 2006, on a small military pension that started at age 40. I do not recommend this to others. From 2006 to 2018, I used credit cards and other loans to fill my budget gaps. At age 62 I had $28,000 in credit card debt. So there was no choice but to start SS benefits for myself and wife, who never worked outside the home. I paid off the credit card debt in just 18 months. In 2020 I leased a new Ford Edge for $351 per month. for 36 months. First new car since 1986, always buying used cars for cash. At month 30, I purchased the Edge for $21,762, it will be paid off in 20 to 24 months, not the 48 month terms of the loan. In the first month I made 4 car payments of $518.72. I have also, purchased $18,000 in I-Bonds this year. Using a zero interest credit card to buy $6,000 of the bonds. Without the SS income none of this would of been possible. I just hit my FRA of 66 and 5 months in May of 2022. Since 62 to FRA total SS benefits equal $63,342. If I would of waited until FRA my SS benefit would of been $400 more per month and it would take until age 79 to recoup the $63,342. Everyone’s different but, I know more people take SS benefits at 62 than wait until FRA. Most are low income households that need the money and the extra SS income does not increase their taxes. Early SS income has allowed me to enjoy life with less stress the last 5 years. Next year my total SS benefits since March 2018 will be more than the total FICA taxes paid by myself and employers from 1971 to 2006, adjusted to 2018 dollars.

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  2. “ Don’t base your decision on the notion that Social Security will not be there for you if you delay. It will be there for you and everyone else.”

    Some amount of SS will be available, not necessarily what you can get now… or are you offering to make up any difference?

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  3. Try using an optimizer like opensocialsecurity.com. All you need handy are you and your wife’s SS statements. If it makes sense to delay ss, it also makes sense to sell down bonds and cash (and keep your stock portfolio intact) to meet your spending needs until ss payments kick in since ss acts as a bond substitute in your portfolio. In effect, you are buying an increased inflation adjusted annuity from Uncle Sam and removing some market, longevity, and inflation risk from your retirement plan. You are giving up control, flexibility, and upside potential on the money you spend during the delay period. That’s the trade-off. And delay becomes much more attractive in many married couple situations due to the survivor benefit features of ss (i.e., the lower check drops when the first spouse dies and the higher check drops when the second spouse dies…so you get joint life expectancy on the higher check).

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  4. Do you have any data, or thoughts, on how income level affects retirement age? The Center for Retirement Research, I recall, said that lower level workers tend to retire younger, generally due to health problems. My Dad did at 62, heart problems, and I retired at 62 with cancer.
    Several other sources claim that because of greater longevity for those with higher income, SS is much less progressive than originally thought.

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    1. “We study two potential adjustments that allow all beneficiaries to realize lifetime benefit gains associated with the average increase in life expectancy while offsetting the disproportionate effects of the longevity differentials. Both adjustments would raise benefits for beneficiaries with lower lifetime earnings and reduce them for beneficiaries with higher lifetime earnings. The adjustments would reduce projected poverty rates among beneficiaries in the lower lifetime earnings quartiles with no increase in the official poverty rate for those in higher quartiles. The adjustments would also narrow the gap in lifetime benefits between individuals in the highest and lowest lifetime earnings quartiles.”

      https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v81n3/v81n3p19.html

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  5. My plan has always been that when my wife reaches age 62 to look at her start collecting Social Security as an adjustment for inflation. I am planning not to withdraw until after 67. I retired at 55. Next year we will have to decide or maybe we will be able to postpone. Currently inflation is beating market returns this year so we’ll see what next year brings.

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