There are two things that give me hope for the human race. The first is ice cream. And the second is the fact that women live longer than men. For the moment, we'll set the first to the side and concentrate on the latter, looking specifically at what it means for the purposes of Social Security.

As you may know, the earlier you elect to receive Social Security benefits, the smaller your monthly check will be for the remainder of retirement.

Under the current guidelines, if you begin collecting benefits at 62, which is the earliest you can do so, then your monthly check will be 25% less than had you waited until 66, at which point you're entitled to the entirety of your "primary insurance amount."

Alternatively, if you wait until 70 then your check will be 32% larger than the latter thanks to so-called "delayed retirement credits." These increase your benefits by 8% for every year (or two-thirds of 1% for every month) after 66 that you defer them, up to a maximum of four years or until you turn 70.


Of course, this doesn't mean it's always better to wait for as long as possible before applying. For instance, if you can't afford to wait and/or don't anticipate living past age 77, then you're better off going ahead and receiving benefits as soon as possible.

The most obvious exception is if you're planning on working between the ages of 62 and 66. In that case, your monthly check is temporarily docked by $1 for every $2 that you earn above $15,480 a year. The net result is that your benefits could be effectively squandered with little to show for it.

An added reason to defer benefits is if you expect to live beyond age 77. And it's for this reason, in turn, that women would generally be smart to delay benefits longer than men.

According to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy of an American man is 77.4 years old. Meanwhile, a woman who's born and raised in the United States is expected to live until 82.2 years of age. That puts the typical male right at the 77-year-old threshold and the average female well beyond it.

The difference between the sexes on this score is so dramatic, in fact, that the average woman would actually be better off (again, assuming it's financially feasible for her to do so) waiting until 70 before applying for benefits, at which point she's entitled to the additional 32% boost as a result of delayed retirement credits.

Now, just to be clear, I'm admittedly playing the averages here. Making the determination about when to start collecting Social Security is a highly individualized analysis that's based on much more than just whether you're a man or woman. That being said, it's something that prudent retirees should nevertheless take into consideration.

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