The Best Reason to Take Social Security Long Before Age 70

If you’re wondering when to start collecting your Social Security benefits and you look to famous sayings for some guidance, you might start early. Consider some of these sage words: “The early bird catches the worm.” “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

There are indeed plenty of good reasons to start your Social Security checks flowing early — but there are also some good reasons to delay as well. Here’s a look at both sets of reasons.

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Why collect Social Security benefits early?

You can start collecting your Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, and the majority of retirees do start around age 62 or 63. That makes good sense for millions of people for this important reason: They simply need the money. Here are some sad numbers from the 2023 Retirement Confidence Survey, showing how much workers in America have socked away for retirement:

Amount in Savings and Investments*

Percentage of Workers

Less than $1,000

18%

$1,000 to $9,999

8%

$10,000 to $24,999

7%

$25,000 to $49,999

5%

$50,000 to $99,999

8%

$100,000 to $250,000

18%

$250,000 or more

36%

Data source: 2023 Retirement Confidence Survey. Table by author.
*excluding the value of a primary home

Sure, many of those folks still have time in which to save and amass much more for retirement. But many do not. If you’re approaching retirement without having saved as much as you needed to, claiming your Social Security benefits can help you survive. (Note that, if possible, delaying retiring for a few years can greatly improve your financial health.)

Here’s another good reason to start early: You don’t know how long you’ll live. If you’re not in the best health and/or many of your close relatives have lived shorter-than-average life spans, starting sooner may be better.

More good reasons to claim your benefits early

Everyone’s situation is different, and most of us will be retiring at different times, too. If the stock market takes a dive near your retirement date, you might not want to be selling any shares at a low point to help support you in retirement. So by claiming your benefits early, you might be able to tap your nest egg less — until it starts recovering. (Note that you can avoid this potentially painful situation by doing what we’ve long advised: keeping any money you’ll need within five or so years — if not 10, to be more conservative — out of stocks.)

If you’ve saved plenty and have ample income already for retirement — perhaps because you’re a savvy and successful investor — you might not need to maximize those future Social Security checks. If so, you might claim early in order to invest that money. You’ll want to be expecting more than 8% in average annual returns, though — because your benefits can grow by that much with no effort from you. 

Starting Social Security early can also help you pay for health insurance until you reach 65 — when you can enroll in Medicare.

On the other hand: Consider delaying

If you can delay starting to collect Social Security, though, you might get more, in total, out of the program. Most workers today have a full retirement age of 66 or 67, and for every year beyond that you delay claiming your Social Security benefits (up to age 70), they will increase by about 8%.

So delaying until age 70 is a great way to beef up your benefits. (There are other ways to increase Social Security benefits, too, such as earning more.) Better still, the bigger your benefits, the bigger your cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), which arrive in most years.

Delaying is a great move if you stand a good chance of living past about the age of 80 or so. That will have you reaching the break-even age at which you will have collected about the same amount in total from Social Security via many smaller checks or fewer larger ones.

The more you know about Social Security, the more effectively you can plan when to claim your benefits. Whether you start at 62, 70, or somewhere in between, Social Security is likely to deliver a big chunk of your retirement income — so it pays to learn more about it.

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