The earliest age you can get your first Social Security check is 62. Filing for benefits ASAP comes at a cost, though, as each month you delay beyond 62 results in a small increase in your monthly check amount. If you get your benefits as soon as you're able, you'll give up any chance to raise your retirement income.
While getting a smaller check definitely has financial downsides, there's one circumstance where you absolutely don't want to wait longer than necessary to get your first payment. If you find yourself in this situation, don't hesitate to get your Social Security retirement income coming in ASAP.
This is the single best reason to claim Social Security at 62
The absolute best reason to start getting Social Security checks at 62 is because you need the money to avoid draining your retirement savings account.
There's a very real chance many seniors will find themselves in this situation. Many people plan to work well into their 60s, but life circumstances often end up making that impossible. If you lose your job in your early 60s and can't find other work that pays well, you get sick and can't work, or you have to quit your job because loved ones need your care, you may simply have no option but to retire sooner than planned.
Even when your paychecks stop coming, the bills keep piling up, and you need a way to cover necessities -- including health insurance, along with other costs. If you don't have a pension, you'll have few options but to rely on your savings. The problem is that you can't take too much out of your retirement accounts too early or you risk reducing the principal balance to such a dangerously low level that your investments hardly earn anything.
You don't want your savings account balance to fall to $0 while you still need income from it, and avoiding this requires you set and stick to a safe withdrawal rate (such as limiting yourself to taking out no more than 4% of your account balance). If you can't maintain this withdrawal rate without Social Security to supplement distributions from your investment accounts, you should start getting retirement checks the very minute you can.
Why it makes sense to preserve your savings at the cost of a smaller Social Security benefit
Now, the obvious downside to claiming Social Security at 62 is that your benefits will be much smaller than they'd have been if you'd delayed claiming benefits.
You have a full retirement age based on your birth year. It's between 66 and 4 months and 67. If you claim at 62, which is well before your FRA, you'll shrink the standard Social Security benefit you'd have been entitled to if you'd waited. The reduction in your standard benefit could be as much as 30% if your FRA is 67.
You also give up the chance to earn delayed retirement credits when you claim Social Security at 62. These increase benefits by 2/3 of 1% per month, which adds up to 8% for each year you waited beyond FRA. As a result, your checks at 62 will be much smaller than they'd have been had you put off filing for payments until 70.
But accepting a smaller benefit is worth it to preserve your savings for one simple reason. No matter what you do, you can't comfortably live on Social Security alone. These benefits are meant to replace about 40% of pre-retirement income, when about 80% to 90% of your salary is the minimum most experts recommend trying to live on. Even if you increase your monthly benefit as much as possible, it would still be extremely difficult to cover the necessities without supplementary savings.
So the bottom line is that you're better off with a smaller Social Security check and supplementary income later in life rather than a bigger check and an empty savings account that produces no distributions for you. That's why claiming Social Security as soon as you can at 62 is a no-brainer if doing otherwise would leave you so reliant on your investments that you drain your account dry.