Retire Well

Here's when you should claim Social Security early

When to collect Social Security

Social Security is all about timing.

The earliest you can claim your retirement benefits is 62, and more than 40 percent of workers opt to begin receiving checks at that time. However, a growing number are waiting until their mid-60s or later, according to Boston College's Center for Retirement Research.

"This is an earned benefit, and you should take it when you want to take it," said Nancy Altman, co-director of the nonprofit Social Security Works.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach in deciding when to collect, she said.

If you do claim at 62, your payout will be 25 percent less than if you waited for what the Social Security Administration calls your full retirement age, which is 66 or 67 depending on the year you were born.

The general rule of thumb is to wait as long as you can. However, there are instances where you shouldn't delay taking that check.

You're disabled and can't work

More than 8.8 million people collect a disability benefit from Social Security because they've had to stop working due to an injury.

If you're one of them, you're already collecting a disability benefit based on your employment record, which will automatically convert to a retirement benefit when you reach full retirement age.

"If you have no other income or just a small amount of savings and you don't want to begin drawing it down then go ahead and claim your benefits," Altman said.

You're sick

Roughly 20 percent of people claim Social Security benefits early because of health problems, according to a survey by the Nationwide Retirement Institute.

If you have a chronic illness or a shorter life expectancy than most people, taking Social Security at your full retirement age or even sooner is a reasonable move.

While waiting gives you a bigger check, the math doesn't add up if you don't have enough years past 70 to make up for missing those earlier payments.

"It's the same chunk of money, it's just how you're spreading it out through your lifetime," Altman said.

Nobody depends on your benefits

If no one is planning on using your benefit after you're gone, and you need the income or don't want to drain your savings, don't wait to file.

This is especially true if you're single or the lower-earning half of a couple.

However, there are plenty of reasons to delay claiming, and many financial advisors agree it's a good idea to wait to take your benefits until age 70, because the monthly amount you receive will rise by roughly 8 percent for each year that you wait beyond your full retirement age.

A bigger Social Security benefit will last throughout your retirement and help you preserve your savings.

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