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Should You Wait to Claim Social Security? Answer These Questions to Decide

By Christy Bieber - Jun 28, 2021 at 5:05AM

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You may be surprised to find that you're better off claiming benefits earlier.

Often, waiting to claim Social Security is the smartest financial choice. Delaying can lead to larger monthly benefits, which is especially helpful since Social Security is probably your only guaranteed source of lifetime income.

But waiting isn't the best choice for everyone. To help you decide if a delay is the right move, ask yourself these three key questions. 

People reviewing financial paperwork.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. What is your health status?

Delaying Social Security costs you money in the short term. After all, if you could claim at 62 but wait until 63, you'll miss out on 12 whole checks. And the longer you wait, the more monthly benefits you miss.

The idea is that you'll get larger lifetime benefits later. And eventually the extra money you get each month will make up for the checks you missed. The problem, however, is that not everyone lives long enough for that to happen. 

It can take many years to break even for delaying your benefits, and even longer to end up better off. If you're in poor health or have a reason you won't outlive your projected lifespan, claiming early could be a far better choice. 

2. Is your spouse waiting on you to claim benefits?

Sometimes, your spouse will need to claim benefits on your work record because they don't qualify on their own or because their own benefit is very small. 

The problem is, until you have started your benefits, your spouse can't claim their spousal benefits. So if you wait, you'll make them delay too. You may want to claim ASAP so you can unlock access to spousal benefits.

Of course, there's a caveat to be aware of. If you are the high earner and start your benefits early, you'll shrink survivor benefits, which go to your spouse after you pass away. That could leave your spouse with less to live on if they outlive you. You'll have to weigh the pros and cons of starting early to enable spousal benefits, versus waiting and having less money now in order to take better care of your spouse later. 

3. Is claiming early the ticket to retirement?

Finally, in some cases, claiming Social Security is necessary to be able to retire -- and you may not want to wait just to maximize your monthly income. 

In most cases, the longer you work, the more money you'll end up with as a retiree. Not only can working longer allow you to score larger Social Security benefits by delaying them, but it also gives you more time to save money and less time when your nest egg must support you. 

But working longer also means you'll have fewer years to enjoy retirement. And, as you age, you may not want to stay on the job, or you may not be physically capable of doing so. If you are ready to quit your job but need Social Security to afford to do it, you may decide retiring now is worth sacrificing some future benefits.

Just remember, though, that Social Security is designed to replace only 40% of pre-retirement income and isn't enough to live on independently -- so be sure you have plenty of other money. And that becomes especially important if you're shrinking your Social Security checks with an early claim. 

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