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Q&A: What factors affect the timing of when I should begin collecting my social security benefits?

Social Security Benefits Application
Most people qualify to begin claiming their Social Security benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. Exceptions to this include disability, a deceased spouse, or an inadequate number of years employed. Unfortunately, your initial eligibility may not entitle you to your full benefit. You must be at your full retirement age (FRA), generally 66 or 67, or you may receive a lower amount. This leaves the question of when to begin claiming your benefits.

Many people choose to begin claiming their Social Security benefits as early as possible. What they do not consider is that they may permanently reduce their payout. We cover several factors to factor in when deciding to begin claiming your benefits below.

CASH NEEDS

It is important to consider all resources you have in place when deciding when to begin your benefits. Resources include your investment portfolio, pensions, and all other sources of income. The more savings or income you have in place, the more flexibility you have with when you begin claiming your benefits. For instance, a higher amount in savings or income may allow you to delay claiming to receive the maximum benefit. You may not be able to delay your benetfits if you will be dependent on your Social Security benefits to cover your necessities. A Financial Plan can help determine the best course of action for your Social Security benefits.

EMPLOYMENT STATUS

If you begin collecting Social Security before your FRA, your annual benefit will be reduced during years when you have earned income that exceeds the yearly earnings limit. Pensions, annuities, investment income, interest, veteran benefits, or other government or military retirement benefits do not count as earned income.

  • If you are still employed and collecting benefits, but are not yet at FRA, $1 in benefits will be deducted for every $2 in earnings above the annual limit ($19,560 in 2022)
  • During the year in which you reach FRA, up until the exact month you reach FRA, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $3 earned above the annual limit ($51,960 in 2022)
  • Once you reach FRA, the amount of your earnings will no longer reduce your benefit. In addition, your benefit will be recalculated to give you credit for the benefits withheld due to your excess earnings.

YOUR SPOUSE

If you are the higher-earning spouse, your decision on when you begin claiming your benefits may affect your spouse’s survivor’s benefits. This is because your spouse is eligible to receive the amount you were entitled to or were receiving at the time of your death. Delaying your Social Security benefits until after reaching FRA may increase your spouse’s survivor’s benefits.

LIFE EXPECTANCY

In general, the longer your life expectancy, the more it pays to delay your benefits. This is because you may be able to receive a larger amount for a longer period. The Social Security Administration offers a Life Expectancy Calculator to predict your average life expectancy based on your gender, date of birth, and information from their cohort life expectancy tables. Please note that this calculator offers an estimate. It does not take your current health or your family’s health and longevity history into account.

QUESTIONS?

When to begin claiming your Social Security benefits is a complicated and personal choice. Our Financial Planning Advisors can provide guidance on which strategy is best for your situation. If you have additional questions regarding your benefits, contact our team, visit www.ssa.gov, or contact your local Social Security office.

Author: Alexis Houlihan, CFP® | Financial Planning Advisor
Written: March 15, 2022