Your decision is a personal one

Would it be better for you to start getting benefits early with a smaller monthly amount for more years, or wait for a larger monthly payment over a shorter timeframe? The answer is personal and depends on several factors, such as your current cash needs, your current health, and family longevity. Also, consider if you plan to work in retirement and if you have other sources of retirement income. You must also study your future financial needs and obligations, and calculate your future Social Security benefit.  We hope you’ll weigh all the facts carefully before making the crucial decision about when to begin receiving Social Security benefits. This decision affects the monthly benefit you will receive for the rest of your life, and may affect benefit protection for your survivors.

Your monthly retirement benefit will be higher if you delay starting it

Your full retirement age varies based on the year you were born. You can visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/ageincrease.html to find your full retirement age. We calculate your basic Social Security benefit—the amount you would receive at your full retirement age—based on your lifetime earnings. However, the actual amount you receive each month depends on when you start receiving benefits. You can start your retirement benefit at any point from age 62 up until age 70, and your benefit will be higher the longer you delay starting it. This adjustment is usually permanent: it sets the base for the benefits you’ll get for the rest of your life. You’ll get annual cost-of-living adjustments and, depending on your work history, may receive higher benefits if you continue to work.

Let’s say you turn 62 in 2017, your full retirement age is 66 and 2 months, and your monthly benefit starting at that age is $1,300. If you start getting benefits at age 62, we’ll reduce your monthly benefit 25.8 percent to $964 to account for the longer time you receive benefits. This decrease is usually permanent.

If you choose to delay getting benefits until age 70, you would increase your monthly benefit to $1,698. This increase is the result of delayed retirement credits you earn for your decision to postpone receiving benefits past your full retirement age.  The benefit at age  70 in this example is 76 percent more than the benefit you would receive each month if you start getting benefits at age  62 — a difference of $734 each month.

Retirement may be longer than you think

When thinking about retirement, be sure to plan for the long term. Many of us will live much longer than the “average” retiree, and most women live longer than men.  More than one in three 65 year olds today will live to age 90, and more than one in seven will live to age 95. Social Security benefits, which last as long as you live, provide valuable protection against outliving savings and other sources of retirement income. Again, you’ll want to choose a retirement age based on your circumstances so you’ll have enough income when you need it.

Married couples have two lives to plan for

Your spouse may be eligible for a benefit based on your work record, and it’s important to consider Social Security protection for widowed spouses. After all, married couples at age 65 today would typically have at least  a 50-50 chance that one member of the couple will live beyond age  90. If you are the higher earner, and you delay starting your retirement benefit, it will result in higher monthly benefits for the rest of your life and higher survivor protection for your spouse, if you die first.

When you are receiving retirement benefits, your children can also be eligible for a benefit on your work record if they’re under age 18 or if they have a disability that began before age 22.

You can keep working

When you reach your full retirement age, you can work and earn as much as you want and still get your full Social Security benefit payment. If you’re younger than full retirement age and if your earnings exceed certain dollar amounts, some of your benefit payments during the year will be withheld.

This doesn’t mean you must try to limit your earnings. If we withhold some of your benefits because you continue to work, we’ll pay you a higher monthly benefit when you reach your full retirement age. So, if you work and earn  more than the exempt amount, it won’t, on average, decrease the total value of your lifetime benefits from Social Security—and can increase them.

Here is how this works: When you reach full retirement age, the Social Security Administration will recalculate your benefit to give you credit for months you didn’t get a benefit because of your earnings. In addition, as long as you continue to work and receive benefits, we’ll check your record every year to see whether the extra earnings will increase your monthly benefit.

Don’t forget Medicare

If you plan to delay receiving benefits because you’re working, you’ll still need to sign up for Medicare three months before reaching age 65. If you don’t enroll in Medicare medical  insurance or prescription drug coverage when you’re first eligible, it can be delayed, and you may have  to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have  coverage. You can find more detailed information about Medicare at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare.

Full retirement age is the age at which a person may first become entitled to full or unreduced retirement benefits.

If your full retirement age is older than 65 (that is, you were born after 1937), you still will be able to take your benefits at age 62, but the reduction in your benefit amount will be greater than it is for people who were born before 1938.

Here’s how it works if your full retirement age is 67.

  • If you start your retirement benefits at age 62, your monthly benefit amount is reduced by about 30 percent. The reduction for starting benefits at age
    • 63 is about 25 percent;
    • 64 is about 20 percent;
    • 65 is about 13.3 percent; and
    • 66 is about 6.7 percent.
  • If you start receiving spouse’s benefits at age 62, your monthly benefit amount is reduced to about 32.5 percent of the amount your spouse would receive if their benefits started at full retirement age. (The reduction is about 67.5 percent.) The reduction for starting benefits as a spouse at age
    • 63 is about 65 percent;
    • 64 is about 62.5 percent;
    • 65 is about 58.3 percent;
    • 66 is about 54.2 percent; and
    • 67 is 50 percent (the maximum benefit amount).
Age To Receive Full Social Security Benefits
(Called “full retirement age” or “normal retirement age.”)
Year of Birth * Full Retirement Age
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943–1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67
*If you were born on January 1st of any year you should refer to the previous year. (If you were born on the 1st of the month, we figure your benefit (and your full retirement age) as if your birthday was in the previous month.)

The earliest you can start receiving Social Security retirement benefits will remain age 62.

Note: If you delay your retirement benefits until after full retirement age, you also may be eligible for delayed retirement credits that would increase your monthly benefit. If you decide to delay your retirement, be sure to

Sign up for Medicare at age 65.

In some circumstances, medical insurance costs more if you delay applying for it.