The vast majority of workers choose to receive their Social Security benefits as soon as they turn 62. And they could be leaving a lot of money on the table. In fact, nearly three-quarters of the 39 million retirees in the U.S. are receiving reduced benefits because they began taking Social Security before they reached full retirement age, according to the Social Security Administration’s 2015 Annual Statistical Supplement.
In fact, you’ll only receive 75% of your benefits if you start taking Social Security at 62. For every year until you reach “full retirement age” (66), the greater your benefit check will be. The chart below shows you exactly how much your benefit will be affected by electing your benefits early.
But decisions like this are rarely cut and dried. If you’re younger than 62 and contemplating when you should elect your Social Security benefits, we’re going to discuss the factors you should consider first.
3 Reasons You Should Take Social Security Benefits at 62
The Social Security retirement benefit is a bit of misnomer because you don’t actually have to be retired to receive the benefit. Under certain circumstances, electing your Social Security benefit at 62, or any other time before full retirement age (66), could be the right decision for you.
- You need the income to meet your basic daily needs. When considering whether or not you should begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 62, look at your budget. Since Social Security will effectively serve as a paycheck, think about whether or not you actually need the additional income.
- You don’t have longevity in your family. Nobody wants to leave money on the table. If you don’t have longevity in your family or simply expect your lifespan to be shorter than average, it is worth considering taking your benefits early. Just keep in mind that upon your death, however, your spouse will receive a lower survivor’s benefit than he or she would have if you had waited.
- You need to be retired. There are a host of indications that it is time to retire. If you’re realizing one or more of them, but your retirement savings are not enough to sustain your lifestyle, electing your benefits at 62 could be a wise decision.
3 Reasons to Wait to Take Social Security Benefits Until After Age 62
The most common reason someone will tell you to wait until full retirement age is that your annual benefit is reduced if you take it sooner. If you elect benefits at age 62, expect to receive a 25% smaller benefit that you would receive at age 66, for the rest of your life. In addition to the downside of a reduced benefit, think about how these factors apply to your life:
- You can afford to wait. If your budget does not rely on the additional income that will be provided by Social Security, your patience will be handsomely rewarded. Your benefit amount increases with each year you wait, up until you turn 70.
- You’re still working and making too much money. “Too much money” sounds quite relative, but in terms of Social Security, individuals who elect benefits before full retirement age will have their benefits reduced by $1 for every $2 earned over $16,920. For people older than full retirement age, but younger than age 70, benefits will be reduced $1 for every $3 earned over $44,880.
- You will get a larger benefit if you wait.
- You’re rewarded for your patience in two ways, and the first is through earnings alone. Your Social Security benefit is determined by the 40 highest-earning quarters of your work history. So, if you’re 62 or older and earning more money each quarter, it could mean a larger monthly benefit when you eventually elect Social Security.
- Whether or not your earnings increase during the final quarters of your working years, the Social Security Administration will also reward you for waiting to take your benefit until age 66 or later.
3 Ways to Boost Income and Avoid Taking Social Security Benefits Early
The Annual Statistical Supplement does not discuss why so many people elect benefits before full retirement age, but if you are considering an early election of your benefits due to an income need, judge the following first:
- Your budget
- Can you generate enough monthly savings to offset your Social Security benefit before full retirement age? The benefits of waiting to take your Social Security benefit far outweigh the costs, so if you’re able to apply a short-term solution for a larger, long-term benefit, it could be in your best interest.
- If retired, take a part-time job
- According to the 2015 Annual Statistical Supplement, the average monthly benefit for a retired worker was $1,329. If after assessing your monthly budget, and the deficit you hoped to fill with Social Security is close to or below what your monthly benefit would be, think about a part-time job. Your annual income will likely fall below the threshold for a reduced benefit, and you will avoid a lifelong reduction in Social Security benefits.
- Consider adjusting your portfolio to a more income-oriented allocation
- Disclaimer: This approach should be discussed with a professional. If you have retirement or investment accounts, you have two strategies at your disposal to help generate income:
- Take dividends in cash, rather than reinvesting. While this may provide a stream of income, it could also slow the growth of your investments.
- Adjust your asset allocation to one that is income-oriented. Then, take the dividends in cash.
- Acknowledging that this approach is more complicated than the previous two, it is also a prudent one because it is reversible. The last thing you want to do, as you approach what could be decades in retirement, is permanently reduce any stream of income.
The Bottom Line
Think about the timing of your Social Security like a tattoo. Both can act like a double-edged sword in your life and, for discussion’s sake, are irreversible. Deciding to get a tattoo is not always a good decision; similarly, electing to take Social Security at 62 is not always a smart choice either. However, the reverse is also true, and the only way to know if this choice is right or wrong is to weigh the factors at play in your life against the consequences of your decision.