Many factors need to be taken into account when deciding when to claim Social Security. For most people, waiting to start benefits until well after the earliest eligibility age of 62 is advisable. Doing so can result in a higher monthly income and a better chance of maxing out lifetime benefits.

But there's a common caveat when experts advise waiting to start benefit checks. Because a delayed claim can take a while to pay off since you'll forgo years of potential income, many experts advise an early claim if you have health issues and are concerned about passing away young. 

If this is your situation, it's important to think very carefully about whether filing for Social Security checks ASAP is really the right move. 

Doctor examining patient.

Image source: Getty Images.

Should you claim benefits as soon as possible if you aren't in good health?

The argument for claiming early if you're in poor health is a simple one.

If you forgo income in exchange for a higher monthly benefit later, there's a good chance you may not live long enough to break even. In other words, you'd need to live long enough for the extra money you get every month to make up for Social Security income you could've had but missed out on due to delaying your benefits claim.

Say, for example, that the standard benefit you'd be eligible for at a full retirement age of 67 would total $1,500. But if you retired at 62, you'd face a 30% cut to this benefit and get just $1,050 per month. So your choices would be to:

  • Start benefits at 62 and, between ages 62 and 67, receive a total of $63,000 in Social Security income -- but get stuck with the smaller $1,050 benefit for the rest of your life. 
  • Wait until 67 to claim benefits, receive $450 per month extra once your checks finally begin, but be out the $63,000 that you could've had if you'd claimed earlier. 

The key question is: How long does it take for the extra $450 per month to make up for the $63,000 in missed income? The answer is 140 months or 11.66 years. If you passed away before the age of 78.66 because of your health issues, then it would seem -- at first glance -- as though you'd be better off getting benefits at 62 instead of waiting. 

However, there's one factor you can't forget. Your early claim would shrink the survivor benefits your spouse would be entitled to after you pass. See, if you were the higher earner, survivor benefits could provide more income than your spouse would have received on their own work record. But if you claim your benefits early, you'll shrink the amount of survivor benefits your spouse is entitled to. 

Life can be financially difficult for widows and widowers after a spouse passes as the household goes from two Social Security checks to just one. You may want to think very carefully about making an early Social Security claim for benefits -- even if you have health issues -- because you could be leaving your surviving spouse in the lurch.