- There are tens of thousands of ways to claim your monthly checks, when you consider factors such as spousal and child benefits and that you don't just decide which year to file, but which month, as well.
- "It's definitely not a one-size-fits-all," said Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University and the author of "Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security."
Wondering whether you should claim your Social Security at age 62, 66 or 70? The options are actually more complicated.
There are tens of thousands of ways to claim your monthly checks, when you consider factors such as spousal and child benefits and that you don't just decide which year to file, but which month, as well.
"It's definitely not a one-size-fits-all," said Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University and the co-author of "Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security."
Kotlikoff created a complicated calculator that determines a person's "maximum" Social Security strategy — the way in which they can reap the most money.
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To be sure, most people don't have the luxury of waiting before claiming Social Security. Losing a job or lacking savings pushes them to file early, despite the economic advantages of deferral. And research shows that even early filers rarely regret their decision.
Still, if you want to know how to maximize your benefits, the calculator can be useful.
CNBC asked Kotlikoff to provide three different examples of optimal claiming strategies.
You're currently a 62-year-old single person with no children who was making $50,000 a year before retirement, and you're assuming you'll live until 100. To maximize your benefits, you'd wait until 70 to collect your Social Security. If you do, your benefits will be around $157,000 more throughout your lifetime than if you pulled the lever at 62.
If you already claimed your Social Security at 62, there's still another way to try to increase your checks. At your full retirement age, you could suspend your benefits until 70. If you do, your resumed monthly amount will be almost the same as if you had waited until your full retirement age of 66 to begin with.
Just 4.6 percent of women and 2.9 percent of men claimed their Social Security at 70 or older in 2016, according to the Social Security Administration
You're married. You and your spouse are both 61, and you have two children under the age of 16. Your spouse has no working history; you were making just under $110,000 before retirement. You assume you'll both live until 85.
You should claim your retirement benefit at 62, according to the calculator. You'll make around $60,000 more than if you waited until 70 to do so, because your child and spouse will be able to both collect child and spousal benefits earlier. (They can't collect these benefits until you file for your retirement benefit.)
And those additional benefits will make up for the hit you'll take for filing early.
The spouse with no working history should file for his or her spousal benefits at their full retirement age of 66. If they waited until 69 to do so, they'd lose out on more than $40,000.
You're 66 years old and married; your spouse is 65. You have no children.
You were the higher earner, and making a little more than $175,000 before retirement. Your spouse was making $20,000 before retirement. You assume you'll both live until 100.
To maximize your spousal benefits, the higher earner should claim it at 67. Then switch to your regular retirement benefit at 70. You'll make $150,000 more than if you claimed your retirement benefit at 66.
Because of your age, you're grandfathered under an old law that allows you to take your spousal benefit first and your retirement benefit later.
But, Kotlikoff, said, "Under the new law, he'd have to take both at once and get only the higher of the two."
Your spouse should claim his or her Social Security retirement benefit at 66 and then switch over to their spousal benefit at 69. He or she will make at least $10,000 more than if they filed for the benefits at 65.