Legal Review: Social Security Benefits and When to Claim Them

You can claim social security benefits at several different ages, starting at age of 62. However, the earlier you claim social security benefits, the lower your monthly retirement checks will be. This may be the more ideal option for you, depending on your circumstances. There are benefits and drawbacks to claiming social security at different ages, as we will cover in the following sections.

Different Social Security Retirement Options

There are three basic options for claiming social security: early retirement at age 62, full retirement at age 66 or 67, or late retirement meaning after age 66 or 67. This may vary depending on when you were born, so the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a Retirement Age Calculator for your reference.

  • Early Retirement — Claiming early retirement will result in a 25-30 percent decrease in benefits.
  • Full Retirement — Claiming full retirement will result in full benefits with no reduction in benefits, but also no increase.
  • Late Retirement — Claiming late retirement will result in a benefits increase of eight percent each year until age 70.

Claiming early retirement or full retirement pays more in the immediate and short-term, but claiming late retirement will pay more in the long term. Roughly half of the eligible individuals take early retirement, either because they need the money earlier or for other reasons.

Which Retirement Option is Best For You?

Several factors can affect which social security retirement option will work best for you when you begin nearing retirement age. These factors include whether you are still working, your physical health, your marriage status, and more.

We break down each of these factors in more detail below:

  • Current Job — People with jobs that are not physically demanding or which have high salaries often choose to continue working into their 60s, while those with physically demanding jobs may not be able to work this long.
  • Physical Health — If you are able-bodied and in good physical health, and are expected to remain in good health, then you are more likely to be able to continue working and potentially delay retirement.
  • Marriage Status — For married couples, it is often better for one spouse (typically the spouse that earns less) to begin collecting benefits first, while the spouse that earns more should wait, if possible.
  • Living Expenses — Analyze your current living expenses, such as your mortgage or bills, and consider if you will be able to live off social security or if you need to continue working and paying off debt.
  • Dependents Status — Early retirement does not reduce dependent benefits, but survivors’ benefits are; this means that individuals with kids can claim early retirement, but only if expected to have a longer lifespan.

Another factor to consider is your estimated date of death, as morbid as it may sound. If you have a good idea of when you will die, as is the case for anyone with deadly genetic conditions, you can compare your benefits for early retirement, full retirement, or late retirement. From there, you can determine which would be the most lucrative during the time you have left.

Resources for Social Security Retirement Options

The SSA provides several resources for individuals to explore their social security retirement options and corresponding benefits. In addition to the general retirement age calculator, the SSA also provides calculators for early or late retirement, windfall elimination provisions, life expectancy, and more.

Beyond retirement calculators, the SSA website offers a wide variety of informational articles and links. These include a breakdown of how social security credits work, applying for retirement benefits, and requesting a social security statement and record of earnings. Additionally, you may want to seek out guidance from a SSDI lawyer to help walk you through the social security system.