When to take Social Security

Social Security is designed to be “actuarially neutral,” that means you are supposed to get about the same total amount of money no matter what age you file. If you file at 62 and live to 80, you will get a smaller check but for a longer time. If you file at 70 and live to 80, you will get a bigger check for a shorter time.

Most people view the process as a reduction in benefits if you start before your full retirement age (FRA) and an increase for each month you delay to age 70.

In reality you receive a reduction in benefits for each month before age 70, but I guess adding benefits sounds more appealing than reducing benefits.

Many people agonize over when to begin their benefits, some want to be sure to maximize what they receive each month and sometimes are concerned about the break even point if they delay their start date.

The reality is that unless you know when you will die, there is no way to do that because of the actuarial nature of the benefit reductions. It’s all neutral – less for longer, more for shorter time.

Maximizing your total lifetime benefits is quite irrelevant.

Isn’t the key receiving the largest income when you (or a surviving spouse) need it most?

Or, as an alternative, taking benefits sooner than needed and investing them until they are needed while accumulating a pool of money.

Taking benefits sooner may also allow you to delay taking funds from tax-deferred retirement account so they have more time to grow.

It’s a personal and important decision that should fit your needs. Don’t jump at trendy advice.


  1. I am a proponent of “trendy” advice. Most Americans’ don’t get enough from Social Security at Full Retirement Age (66+ or 67) to cover regualar periodic everyday anticipated expenses – rent, gas, food, clothing, utilities, medical costs, etc.

    And, most Americans don’t qualify for a regular pension of any significant amount – paid in the form of a monthly income.

    So, I do recommend every individual who is retiring (commencing payout) between age 62 and age 70 to consider the need for additional, guaranteed, inflation-indexed income. The best buy for those who need such additional income is to defer commencement of Social Security, but not beyond age 70, and to gap fill with retirement savings between now and then.

    Best part of deferring commencement of Social Security is that, until you reach age 70, you can change your mind. And, if your savings aren’t enough to bridge you to age 70, chances are you are not financial prepared for retirement – so, you should consider continuing employment.

    Importantly, surveys show that most Americans who planned on working, either part or full time, in retirement, failed to secure employment they wantes.

    If you have worked all your life, I hope you have prepared for retirement. You certainly have earned it.


      1. Nitpicking.
        Actuarially equal at age 80 (78.7)?

        I gave up $1,000 a month to retire at 62 (not sorry). Had I retired at FRA, I would break even at 80, but the extra $1,000 a month would keep rolling in, as I understand it. At the time I chose, I had very good reason to believe I would never see 80, that factored in.

        Derp! It literally just now hit me, I may have shorted my wife. She’s 5 years younger and cancer free. My math was good, I think, but logic was faulty. Here’s hoping I beat the odds.


    1. Like everything else in life, it depends! It depends! If you are trying to maximize the dollar amount of the benefit you receive, it is possible that will happen if you start at age 62. But, depending on circumstances, it may not maximize the amount of Social Security you get to keep, after taxes. It is also possible that you will live to age 100 (like the first Social Security recipient), in which case, deferring commencement to Full Retirement Age or even Age 70 may provide the greatest benefit, in total dollars, present value, AND after taxes.

      Similarly, if you are trying to maximize the present value of the Social Security benefits you receive, 62 may not be the answer.

      My Social Security rep would always get the question at seminars where I moderated “When should I start Social Security”? He would ponder for 5 seconds, and respond: “You tell me the month and year in which you are going to die, and I will tell you.” Today, if I had him back at a seminar, I would encourage him to adjust his attempt at a humorous response to: “You tell me the month and year in wich you and your spouse are going to die, and I will tell you.”


  2. The idea of when to claim social security has turned into a cottage industry for financial advisers, bloggers, insurance salespeople and the like. I’m glad you included that it is a personal decision and based on individual need.
    I signed on at 62 simply because I wanted to and didn’t have a firm idea of longevity. I’ve lost 2 brothers and 2 sisters and only 1 of the 4 made it to their 80’s. I sometimes think it would be nice to have a larger monthly benefit but it wouldn’t materially affect my livelihood so the thought passes quickly.
    I do think that many people who are struggling are those who began receiving benefits at 62 instead of waiting and their other sources of income aren’t that great. Most probably didn’t realize that they were doing harm to themselves by applying at 62.


    1. Yes it has. I started mine at FRA while still working but invested it for several years in bond funds where a reinvested the interest each month and still do. That now equals my net SS payment and available to use as necessary without touching principle.


  3. I retired at 62, like my father. He had a mild heart attack at 62, and I was diagnosed with kidney cancer at the same age. I had the additional incentive of the Great Recession. As a state employee, our income was reduced by ten percent,* and indications were there would be no raises for the near future (5 years, as it turned out).

    I had done the math and planned on retiring at 67, when my wife could also retire at 62.

    Two sisters worked into their mid seventies/low eighties. They are the ones who will live on SS alone.

    *Not a pay cut, technically. Two day per month furloughs. Same affect.


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