Retirees who want the maximum monthly income from Social Security will need to wait until 70 to start getting their checks. And for close to 6 in 10 retirees, delaying until 70 results in a larger lifetime benefit.
But that doesn't mean everyone should wait to start their checks until then. In fact, in these five situations, claiming earlier could be a better bet.
1. You aren't very healthy
Delaying a claim until 70 results in larger monthly checks, but it means giving up many years of Social Security income you'd have been able to get. You could claim as early as 62, so if you wait until 70, you'll forgo a whopping eight years of potential payments.
Eventually, you'll break even for the income you missed. That's because you get higher monthly checks due to waiting until 70 and earning delayed retirement credits. But the key word there is "eventually."
To end up better off with a delayed claim, you'll generally need to outlive your life expectancy and live well into your 80s. If you aren't in great health, the odds of that happening might not be high, and you could be better off starting checks sooner.
2. You need your benefits to enable retirement
Many people simply can't afford to retire unless they have Social Security income.
If that's your situation, you might not want to wait until 70 to retire. Or you might not be able to wait that long if job opportunities dry up as you age or your health makes earning an income a challenge.
If you can't wait to retire and you need Social Security to cover the necessities, there's little sense in trying to hold out until 70 and living a life of deprivation in the meantime.
3. You need to claim to unlock your spouse's benefits
If you have a husband or wife who plans to rely on Social Security spousal benefits, you're going to need to claim your benefits first to enable them to claim the spousal benefits. The two of you might decide it doesn't make sense for you to wait until 70 when you could start your benefits sooner and open the door to income for your partner as well.
You should consider the fact that claiming early will cut spousal benefits if you're the higher earner. You're reducing your monthly income, and your spouse gets the higher of your two benefits when you die. If your spouse as an individual qualifies for some benefits, even if they're lower than spousal benefits, consider having your partner claim that amount first so you can delay and maximize survivors benefits.
But if your spouse doesn't qualify for benefits or for a really low amount, an early claim on your part could make sense so your partner can start getting Social Security income ASAP.
4. You risk spending savings too fast
If you're struggling to survive without Social Security because you're waiting until 70 and your nest egg starts dwindling too fast, you could end up much worse off.
If it's impossible to cover bills with a safe withdrawal rate unless you start getting Social Security checks, it makes sense to file for benefits ASAP to preserve your savings, even if you aren't yet close to 70.
5. You're claiming spousal benefits
Finally, if you're claiming spousal benefits yourself, there's no gain in delaying until 70. These benefits don't increase after you've hit your full retirement age (FRA), which is between 66 and 2 months and age 67 (depending on your birth year). So there's no financial advantage to waiting beyond FRA since you can't earn delayed retirement credits with spousal benefits.
In any of these situations, an early Social Security claim could be your smartest financial move. They just go to show that there's no one-size-fits-all approach and that you need to make the decision that's right for you.