Millions of seniors rely on Social Security to stay afloat financially during retirement, and so the decision to claim benefits is a big one. That's because the age you land on will dictate how much monthly income you get from the program throughout your senior years. As such, you shouldn't even think about signing up for benefits until you have answers to the following important questions.

1. What's my full retirement age?

Your monthly Social Security benefit is calculated based on your average monthly wage, adjusted for inflation, over your 35 highest-paid years of earnings. But you're not entitled to that benefit in full until you reach full retirement age, or FRA.

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FRA is based on your year of birth, as follows:

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age




66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1960 or later


Now you are allowed to sign up for benefits as early as age 62, but doing so will reduce them on a permanent basis. Similarly, you can delay your filing past FRA and boost your benefits by 8% a year, up until age 70. But you won't be well-equipped to make the right call if you don't know what your FRA is in the first place, so be sure to figure that out early on.

2. What does my savings balance look like?

The less personal savings you have going into retirement, the more reliant you're apt to be on Social Security. Now there's no single savings figure that guarantees you'll be financially secure throughout your senior years, but as a general rule, if you retire with 10 times your ending salary in an IRA or 401(k) plan, you're in pretty good shape.

If your savings balance isn't looking particularly robust, then you may need to delay your Social Security filing as long as possible to compensate with a higher monthly benefit. Or, you may decide that if you've socked away a lot of money, you'll file sooner and use your benefits to travel or enjoy life at a younger age. But either way, the amount of money you have saved should play a role in that decision.

3. What does my spouse think?

If you're single, you only need to think about yourself when deciding when to claim Social Security. But if you're married, the decisions you make will impact your spouse. If your spouse never worked for example, he or she can claim a monthly benefit based on your record, but only once you start collecting benefits yourself. And if your spouse outlives you, he or she will be entitled to 100% of your monthly benefit, so the higher it is, the more financial stability you'll leave your spouse with.

It's for these reasons that you must talk to your spouse about filing for benefits rather than make that decision solo. Your spouse may also be entitled a benefit based on his or her separate work record, and from there, you'll have the opportunity to coordinate and get the most out of Social Security.

Signing up for Social Security is a big decision, and one that shouldn't be taken lightly. Answer these questions before making any moves so you don't wind up regretting things after the fact.