Choosing When to Start Receiving Social Security Retirement Benefits

You can begin taking retirement benefits whenever you choose between age 62 and age 70.

The social security program allows you to begin receiving benefits the month after you reach age 62, or to wait until your full retirement age, or even later. The longer you wait, the fewer checks you'll receive. But the checks will be bigger if your wait (up to age 70), so a delay will produce a greater total benefit if you live long enough. The decision about when to start taking your benefits is partly a gamble on how long you're going to live and partly a matter of economic circumstances and personal preferences.

Choose Any Month

Once you qualify for retirement benefits, you can choose to start them any month. Your starting date doesn't have to be at age 62 or at full retirement age. The amount of reduction for starting your benefit early (or increase for starting your benefit late) is calculated in small monthly increments, so that the benefit you'll get starting in one particular month is not much different than the benefit you would get starting the month before or the month after. Apart from the operation of the earnings test, discussed next, there isn't any point where you'll see a sudden dramatic change by waiting one more month.

Earnings Test

The earnings test may reduce your benefit during the period before you reach full retirement age if you have significant earnings during that period. If you're thinking about starting your retirement benefit before full retirement age while still working, you should take this factor into account. The reduction in benefits from the earnings test applies only to the years you have the earnings, and only until you reach full retirement age.

If your benefit is reduced as a result of the earnings test, the Social Security Administration will recalculate your benefit upward when you reach full retirement age. In other words, you get credit for the fact that you didn't receive your full benefit, so these dollars are not necessarily lost forever.

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