Your 62nd birthday is a major milestone: You become eligible to claim your Social Security benefits. But many people opt to wait because starting checks at 62 results in a reduction in monthly income.
If you've turned 62 or are about to, and you're trying to decide whether to start your checks right away or wait and get bigger checks, ask yourself these three questions.
1. How's your health?
A delayed Social Security claim means passing up benefits you could receive currently in exchange for the promise of higher benefits in the future.
If you're in poor health, however, you may miss out on income now and never get to claim those larger checks. Or, if you die shortly after putting in a delayed claim for benefits, you might get bigger checks for such a short time that they don't make up for all the income you missed by waiting. That might make early filing a far better financial move.
2. How will this affect your spouse?
Delaying a claim for Social Security could result in larger survivors benefits. That's because the surviving spouse essentially gets to keep the larger of the two benefits the spouses were receiving. That's a big plus to delaying if you're the higher earner and want to make sure your spouse is taken care of.
But there's a downside to waiting to start benefits. If your partner plans to claim spousal benefits on your work history, it's not allowed until you've requested your own checks. In situations where your spouse has a really low benefit or none at all based on a limited or nonexistent work history, you might want to file as soon as possible to unlock access to spousal benefits and enable your partner to begin bringing in Social Security income -- even if it would reduce possible future survivor benefits down the road.
3. How will this affect your savings?
In some cases, if you don't claim Social Security early, you might have to take too much money out of your savings to support yourself. Most people need income from savings and Social Security after retiring because benefits alone aren't sufficient.
If you're delaying Social Security checks because you're trying to raise your benefit, you still need to pay the bills -- ideally while maintaining a safe withdrawal rate. But if you can't manage this, you're probably better off relying on a combination of savings and Social Security, even if that means you can't max out your retirement benefits. Otherwise, your efforts to supercharge your Social Security checks could leave you worse off throughout your later years.
The answers to these three questions can help you make the right choice on whether or not to delay your benefits claim.