Retired
Choice and necessity are both factors in when you take Social Security. Image source: EPA.

Deciding when to take your Social Security benefit is a critical decision, with the majority of experts suggesting that you delay taking your benefit as long as possible in order to maximize your monthly payment. 

However, that's not always the best call, and for a variety of reasons. We asked three of our top retirement and investment planning contributors to each give us a reason why it could make sense to take Social Security retirement at 62, the earliest age it can be claimed. Their answers included considering your probable lifespan, coming changes in spousal benefit rules, financial hardship, and the value of your time. 

Here's what they had to say:

Selena Maranjian (Do the math): You probably know that you can start receiving Social Security benefits as early as age 62 -- but that the longer you wait (up to age 70), the bigger your monthly checks will be. Thus, it can seem smart to delay starting to collect as long as possible. Below, from the Social Security Administration (SSA) itself, is an example of how much you might receive per month if you start collecting at different ages, if your full retirement age is 66 and you would receive $1,000 per month if you started collecting then. 

Start Collecting at Age

Monthly Benefit

62

$750

63

$800

64

$866

65

$933

66

$1,000

67

$1,080

68

$1,160

69

$1,240

70

$1,320

Data source: Social Security Administration.

You can collect checks nearly twice as big if you opt to start collecting at age 70 instead of 62. But here's something many people don't know. As the SSA explains: "If you live to the average life expectancy for someone your age, you'll receive about the same amount in lifetime benefits. It doesn't matter if you choose to start receiving benefits at age 62,full retirement age, age 70, or any age between." The reason for that is that though checks that start at age 62 will be significantly smaller than ones that begin years later, there will be a lot more of them.

From age 62 to age 70, there are 96 months. If you collect $750 per month for 96 months, that comes to $72,000! So should you just start at age 62? Well, if you have plenty to live on in your early retirement years and you expect to live a long time, it can make sense to delay a bit in order to get bigger checks. But many people could use the income at age 62 -- and for most folks, starting to collect then is far from a dumb idea.

Dan Caplinger (Spousal benefit rule changes): New Social Security law changes just gave many spouses more reason to go ahead and take their benefits early. Under previous law, the opportunity to file a restricted application limited to spousal benefits only was a powerful incentive for people to wait until the full retirement age of 66 in order to claim their benefits. Doing so would allow a spouse to claim spousal benefits at 66 while letting their own retirement benefit continue to grow through age 70, potentially giving them an even bigger payout later in their retirement. If you claimed spousal benefits earlier than full retirement age, however, you would be deemed to have claimed your own retirement benefits as well.

For those who turn 62 in 2016 or later, however, the right to restrict a Social Security application to spousal benefits only will no longer be available. Instead, the deeming provisions will apply regardless of whether you've reached full retirement age. That will take away one of the key incentives that led some spouses to wait rather than take their spousal benefits early. If you were looking to take advantage of the restricted application strategy, you'll want to take a second look and see whether it still makes sense under the new rules. In some cases, the rule change will make it smarter to take benefits at 62.

Jason Hall (Financial hardship or the ability to retire early): As Selena explained, the amount of your monthly benefit can vary significantly depending on when you start taking it, and the longer you wait, the more you'll receive each month. Conversely, the sooner you take it, the less you'll get. If your Social Security retirement age is 67 (everyone born after 1959), your benefit would be reduced by 30% if you were to retire at 62 . Wait till 70, and it would be 30% higher. 

However, a higher benefit may not matter if you can't make ends meet at 62. If you're unable to generate enough income, it may be in your best interest to take a reduced benefit at 62. If you're disabled or otherwise physically unable to work, you may qualify for additional benefits to augment your income.

On the other side of the coin, it may be worth taking your benefit at 62 because you can. Getting the most dollars is great, but time is absolutely the most valuable resource we possess. And if taking your benefit at 62 will provide you with enough income to pursue some other passion, then all of the other calculations may not matter a whit.

Bottom line? There's what it looks like on paper, and then there's what it looks like in the real world. Consider both when making this important decision. 

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