At what age should I take Social Security?

A senior man with glasses collects his mail at the mailbox and looks through it.

Social Security is the main source of income for most seniors; according to the Social Security Administration.1

The SSA estimates over 62 million Americans will receive Social Security benefits in 2017. The average monthly benefit for retired workers and dependents is $1,360.2

When it comes to receiving the maximum Social Security benefit possible, timing can be important. Sometimes, beneficiaries may receive more by delaying withdrawal, but some older adults may need the funds sooner.

Start by asking yourself some questions:

  • Should I retire early?
  • Should I work past 70?
  • What happens to Medicare if I work past 65 years old?

The SSA website offers "future planning calculators", opens new window to estimate things that can affect retirement. These include life expectancy, pension eligibility, spousal benefits, retirement age, and more.

How soon can I take Social Security?

While you can take benefits as early as age 62, it may not be recommended. Only those on disability, or surviving spouses, can take Social Security earlier than 62.3

Your full retirement age, also known as “normal retirement age,” or NRA, determines if you can receive full benefits. While the former full retirement age was 65 for all, the law has changed.

Now, the NRA is 67 for those born after 1959, 66 for those born between 1943–1958, and 65 for those born between 1938–1942.4

If you take Social Security up to 36 months before your full retirement age, your benefit will be permanently reduced (on a monthly basis) by five-ninths of 1 percent. If you withdraw more than 36 months early, your benefit is reduced by five-twelfths of 1 percent each month.5

Why should I wait?

You can take your Social Security benefits early, or when you reach retirement age. You can also delay benefits.6 Whether you're still working or have budgeted enough to live without Social Security benefits, you may be on the plus side when it comes to your monthly payout.

If your full retirement age is 66 or older, check out this chart from SSA, opens new window. It will show you how delaying retirement—even just by several months—can affect your Social Security benefits to your advantage.

You can also use this Retirement Planner tool, opens new window to determine the best time to access your Social Security benefits.

Will taking Social Security at any time affect my Medicare?

Though they are separate programs, there are some beneficial connections between them.

If you're receiving Social Security benefits, Social Security works with Medicare and you'll get an initial enrollment package from Medicare three months before the month of your 65th birthday.

Also, your Medicare premiums will most likely be collected by Social Security if you are already receiving those benefits. Social Security will send a notice before the deductions begin. If you aren’t receiving Social Security retirement benefits, you'll get a monthly bill from Medicare.7

Plan first, withdraw later

Healthcare coverage can be a major retirement expense, and Medicare is not all-inclusive. Before you choose to take Social Security, make sure you've carefully reviewed your budget, factoring in healthcare costs (inflation and unexpected events).

Don't underestimate those expenses. A fixed income may not allow for much fluctuation. Also people are living longer, so retirement may be longer than you plan for. According to SocialSecurity.gov, more than one in three of today's 65-year-olds will live to age 90. More than one in seven will live to age 95.8

The decision about when to take Social Security is important and personal. It will likely factor in to how you meet current and future healthcare needs. Plan before you make your next move, and be better prepared for what lies ahead.

Consulting with a financial advisor is recommended before making any decisions.

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