When to begin your Social Security benefits

When to claim Social Security benefits is a critical decision for older Americans planning their retirement,” the senators said in their letter to the Social Security Administration. “Most people, however, do not claim benefits at the age that would maximize their income in retirement, usually because they claim too early.”

To wit, retirement benefits taken at age 70 are 76% higher, adjusted for inflation, than retirement benefits taken at 62, according to 2022 research from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

That same research found all U.S. workers ages 45 to 62 would benefit from waiting until beyond age 65 to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits, and more than 90% would benefit financially from waiting until age 70 to claim. But only about 10% of workers actually wait until age 70 to claim.

The compelling research found people leave a median household loss of $182,370 on the table by not waiting until age 70 to claim.

401k Specialist

My uneducated opinion is the above is academic dribble.

Hummm, why do only 10% of retirees delay taking Social Security at age 70?

Because they cannot afford to wait‼️

Average 401(k) balance at retirement

Many U.S. workers retire by the time they reach 65. Vanguard’s data shows the average 401(k) balance for workers 65 and older to be $279,997, while the median balance is $87,725.

For retirees following the 4% rule, the average balance would produce just $11,200 in annual retirement income, while the median would provide only around $3,509. Even when combined with Social Security, this may not be sufficient to provide a comfortable income in retirement.



  1. Foolish to use the data supplied by Motley Fool in terms of retirement income adequacy projection.

    In terms of average and median balances in 401k accounts at age 65, with respect to income projections, those data are crap.

    First, median tenure of American workers ages 18+ is < 5 years.
    Second, median tenure of American workers ages 55+ is < 10 years.
    Third, 1 in 5 retirement savings accounts in America belongs to someone who no longer works at the employer who sponsored the plan – and those accounts disproportionately belong to workers age 55+.
    Fourth, obviously, the account balance at age 65 does not include any distributions, whether or not they were rolled over to an IRA; nor does it include the accumulated value of any accrued benefit from a defined benefit pension plan.

    So, for the median worker at age 65, a 401k account balance likely represents less than 10 years of saving, and minimal earnings over the past 10 years.

    A few years ago, back when I reached age 65, I had 4 different retirement savings plan accounts (and benefits from two different defined benefit pension plans, one in a payout status, the other was an accrued benefit of just a few years). Of the 4 retirement savings plan accounts, one was from an employer with 22 years of participation, one from an employer with two years of participation, one with an employer with 4 years of participation and one with an employer of three years of participation. The first one had a substantial balance accumulated over 30+ years of employment and saving – including rollovers into that plan. The other three included my current employer, and, two others where I worked from August 2016 – July 2017, and April 2017 – December 2019.

    Three of those four accounts had a balance of < $85,000, and two accounts were age 70, one with significant assets and one with just two years of savings.


  2. Dick, an individual who cannot afford to wait is likely an individual who is not really financially prepared to retire.

    As I stated elsewhere:

    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 benefits 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.”

    Why defer commencement?

    Most Americans’ don’t get enough from Social Security at age 62, or at Full Retirement Age (66+ or 67) nor even at age 70, 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 (stopping employment and 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 (wages, other income, etc.) 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 financially prepared for retirement – so, you should consider continuing full time employment in your career occupation. Because, surveys show that most Americans who planned on working, either part or full time, in retirement, perhaps at a second career, failed to secure the employment they wanted.

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


  3. Claimed at 65 just so Medicare wouldn’t be out of pocket. Family history indicates living long enough to make a difference is unlikely anyway.


  4. I have been curious as to who retires earlier, low income or high income. But numbers can be deceiving. Instead I found a study* comparing retirement age by education (education being a strong determinant of earnings).
    Apparently average retirement ages have been increasing, but mostly because of higher education.

    Higher education/higher earnings/ greater life expectancy seem to go hand in hand.

    “Although the overall average retirement age has increased substantially, men with only a high school diploma have seen almost no change for several reasons. First, they have seen less of an improvement in their health and longevity than more-educated workers.”

    Also, poor health is a bigger determinant than lower education/earnings. Even though poor health is also a result of lower earnings.

    FWIW, I agree the NBER research is drivel, but I haven’t read the study yet.

    *Center for Retirement Research May 2018

    “Dribble” and “drivel” originally meant the same thing: drool. But the two words have become differentiated.


  5. The amount of savings plus Social Security does not give a very satisfactory amount to live on after retiring. This would mean that more than half of retirees would be living in the edge. This may be accurate but how do retirees live in higher cost areas with such meager incomes? Do they get a lot of state and local assistance?

    The idea that such large amounts of social security are left on the table brings up the question of how much more the program would bleed if everyone maxed out benefits. Surely some math nerds somewhere have researched this.


      1. If that was the case, then there would be no discussion of leaving cash on the table. Everyone would pull in the same amount.


      2. If everyone died on their actuarial date of life expectancy, but it only works on a group basis.


      3. I’ve cited NBER data before and assumed they were knowledgeable and unbiased. (Still do.)
        But it’s important to look at the context. This seems to be a very detailed analysis, but one thing pops out that probably makes the biggest difference.

        From SSA website:
        “Your life expectancy affects your retirement planning decisions. Knowing this, helps you determine whether you should start receiving your benefits at age 62, or wait until age 70
        to receive a higher payment.”

        Life expectancy refers to when, on average, a person will die.

        This study uses maximum life expectancy, not average.

        “When it comes to longevity risk, we need to consider the financially catastrophic scenario – living as long as possible. The reason is simple. We must worry about our welfare if we do live to maximum age.”

        An unsurprising aside, assuming max life expectancy, retiring at age 70, does increase lifetime benefits. The increase is much greater as a percentage for the high earner than the lower earner.


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