When Should I Claim Social Security?

One of the most common questions we get is “when should I start taking social security?”  While most of us like simple, yes or no answers, unfortunately the answer to this question is “it depends”.   You need to understand a few things about social security first…

First, to claim social security you or your spouse must have worked at least 40 quarters of qualified employment (10 years).  Next, your social security benefit will be based on your highest 35 years of earnings.  So for every year you keep working later in your career, you are likely knocking those part-time high school and college jobs off the list for calculating your benefits.

The third thing to know is your full retirement age, or FRA.  FRA is the age at which you will receive full benefits and your social security won’t be reduced by other income you might earn.  Your FRA is determined by the year in which you were born.  The chart below will give you a pretty good idea, but if you want to know the exact age and month, I encourage you to follow the source link below the chart:

Year of birth

Full retirement age

1943-1954

66

1955

66 and 2 months

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960

67

 

Source: www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/1943.html

While it is tempting to claim social security as soon as you are eligible, if you claim social security at an age less than your FRA, your benefit will be reduced – by as much as 30%! (again, see the chart on the website listed above, which shows the percentage reduction you will get at each step between age 62 and FRA).  If you do claim social security early, any income you earn over a certain amount (in 2018 the number is $17,040) will reduce your benefit $1 for every $2 over that limit you earn.

Part of your decision then should be whether or not you can afford to take “the hit” of having your social security reduced by claiming early.  Remember, once you start, you’re pretty much locked in to that rate.  The longer you wait, the more you get.  That is ever true if you wait beyond your FRA.  For each year you wait from FRA to age 70, you’ll get 8% more!

Obviously, there are reasons why you might want to claim early.  If your health prohibits you from continuing to work, it makes sense to claim early.  If you have significant family history of dying prematurely, you also may want to claim early.  Other reasons for claiming early include being out of work, retiring early and using the social security to pay for your health care until you are Medicare eligible, or if you can’t afford to wait and need the money sooner.

So you can see that the answer to the question of when to take social security isn’t something that should be answered without thinking through the variations and consequences.  If this is something with which you need help, please contact us to discuss your personal circumstances.  You can always reach us at greg@affinityassetmanagement.com .