When Should You Collect Social Security?

Log InA growing number of Americans have been forced to delay their planned retirement date due to job and savings losses suffered during the most recent recession. According to a survey, nearly one-quarter of workers said they have resolved to retire later due to concerns about outliving their savings and fears of rising health care costs.1

Postponing retirement not only means working longer, but also delaying when you start collecting Social Security. Currently, workers can begin collecting Social Security as early as age 62 and as late as age 70. The longer you wait to start collecting, the higher your monthly payment will be. Your Social Security monthly payment is based on your earnings history and the age at which you begin collecting compared with your “normal retirement age.” Thisnormal retirement age depends on the year you were born.

Normal Retirement Age

Year Born 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 or later 67

Those choosing to collect before their normal retirement age face a reduction in monthly payments by as much as 30%. What’s more, there is a stiff penalty for anyone who collects early and earns wages in excess of an annual earnings limit ($15,120 in 2013).

For those opting to delay collecting until after their normal retirement age, monthly payments increase by an amount that varies based on the year you were born. For each month you delay retirement past your normal retirement age, your monthly benefit will increase between 0.29% per month for someone born in 1925, to 0.67% for someone born after 1942.

Which is right for you will depend upon your financial situation as well as your anticipated life expectancy. Consider postponing taking your Social Security benefits if:

  • You are in good health and can continue working. Taking Social Security later results in fewer checks during your lifetime, but the credit for waiting means each check will be larger.
  • You make enough to impact the taxability of your benefits. If you take Social Security before your normal retirement age, earning a wage (or even self-employment income) could reduce your benefit.
  • You earn more than your spouse and want to ensure that spouse receives the highest possible benefit in the event that you die before he or she does. The amount of survivor benefits for a spouse who hasn’t earned much during his or her working years could depend on the deceased, higher-earning spouse’s benefit — the bigger the higher-earning spouse’s benefit, the better for the surviving spouse.

Consider taking your benefits earlier if:

  • You are in poor health.
  • You are no longer working and need the benefit to help make ends meet.
  • You earn less than your spouse and your spouse has decided to continue working to help earn a better benefit.

Whenever you decide to begin taking your benefit, keep in mind that Social Security represents only 36% of the average retiree’s income.2 So you’ll need to save and plan ahead — regardless of whether you collect sooner or later.

1Source: Employee Benefit Resource Institute, 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey, March 2013.

2Source: Social Security Administration, “Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2013.”

1-199483